How to Become a Commercial Truck Driver

Are you thinking about becoming a commercial truck driver? From the advantages of job security and great benefits to the variety of amazing places you can travel to and experiences that’ll be available, there are a lot of perks that come with being a commercial truck driver.

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True, being a truck driver may not be for everyone. But for those of us who love the open road and being part of one of the biggest industries keeping the American economy bustling, there’s nothing more rewarding than being part of the trucking business!

Trucking is a continually growing market, which means endless opportunities for those looking to enter the industry for the first time. According to the American Trucking Association, freight tonnage in the U.S. will grow 24 percent by the end of 2022 — leading to a projected rise in revenue within the trucking industry of 66 percent. More freight means more jobs and more chances to gain experience.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of commercial truck driving, how much you can expect to make, the skills you’ll need, the steps you’ll have to take to get your CDL, and more, the experts at DAT have you covered. Get the answers to all those questions and more in this guide!

Why be a commercial truck driver?

Everyone has their own reasons for becoming a truck driver. Maybe you like traveling and the solidarity the road offers, or maybe you’re looking for a stable job that you know will always have work, or maybe you have other reasons that are entirely your own. If you’re considering becoming a truck driver, check out a few of the reasons why others have selected a career in the transportation market. As a commercial driver you can:

Earn a good salary

The typical commercial truck driver salary ranges between $49,000 and $64,000 yearly, averaging around $56,000 in the U.S. Depending on your experience, location, the freight you haul, and the company you work with, those numbers can go as high as the $70K–$80K range. Even better, many companies offer opportunities to earn bonuses if you tackle more difficult hauls, such as hazardous loads, or if you provide loading/unloading services to customers. Since you can become a driver without a college degree, this is a well-paying career choice for those who want to make a good living without necessarily accruing debt in school.

Have job stability

Truck drivers are essential to the function of the country. In fact, they’re responsible for hauling 72.5 percent of the nation’s freight by weight. With so much of the nation’s goods depending on the operation of the trucking industry, job stability is much more available as a truck driver than in other fields — and it’s a major reason why so many people choose to become commercial truckers. Having a stable job can offer you peace of mind, especially during periods of economic uncertainty.

Have comprehensive benefits

In addition to job stability, one of the biggest advantages of working with a commercial trucking company is that they typically offer many benefits. While each business may differ in what options they have available, truck drivers can potentially receive coverage ranging from health and life insurance to paid time off and retirement plans. Other benefits may include dental, vision, paid holidays, and even referral bonuses.

Get opportunities to travel

One of the first things that come to mind when people think of being a truck driver is the chance to get paid to travel all over the country. Being a truck driver allows you to visit different cities across the U.S. as you haul your loads. For some companies, you’ll even be able to travel outside of the country into Canada and Mexico. It’s one of the best ways to explore the country!

Be independent

The independence and flexibility that come with truck driving are drastically different from the work typical of office jobs. While many jobs follow a rigid routine that rarely differs day to day, truck driving allows drivers to visit new places, meet new people, and even drive different rigs depending on the load. Of course, drivers must adhere to their schedule to ensure timely delivery, but what you do during your time on the open road is up to you.

Have access to training

Companies want to ensure their drivers are safe, experienced, and reliable. As the trucking industry grows, companies are beginning to offer different perks to entice new talent, such as training reimbursements. A commercial driver’s license, or CDL, is the main requirement for driving a rig, and many companies out there will even offer to pay for your commercial truck training and then give you a job after you finish. Additionally, if you already have a CDL but want to drive special equipment or handle more sensitive goods, you may need extra endorsements that a company may be willing to provide training for.

That means that even if you hope to run your own business as an owner-operator at some point, commercial truck driving can be a great way to get started in the field and get the training you need for free.

Steps to become a commercial truck driver

If any of the above reasons to join the trucking industry intrigue you, and you want to know what it actually takes to become a commercial truck driver, then let’s get started:

Basic requirements for commercial truck driving

There are a few basic requirements you’ll have to meet in order to start your journey towards becoming a commercial truck driver, such as:

  • Education – Not every company will require you to have your GED or high school diploma, but many will. Keep this in mind as you begin job hunting.
  • Age – To get a CDL, you must be at least 18 years old to drive within your state (intrastate) and 21 years old to drive across state lines (interstate).
  • Driving record – Since driving is the name of the gig, you must have a clean driving record to be eligible to receive your CDL.
  • Drug tests and background checks – Drug testing and background checks are not necessary to obtain your CDL. However, most companies will require you to undergo a drug test and background check if you want to drive for them. Some businesses may request periodic drug testing or additional once-off testing if you are involved in an accident or after a long vacation.
  • Non-commercial driver’s license – Before you can begin training to get your CDL, you must already have a valid non-commercial driver’s license.
  • Proof of identity and residency – Much like a regular driver’s license, getting a CDL requires several proofs of identity. This includes proof of residency, which involves providing documents such as utility bills or mortgage payments, your social security number, and a copy of your birth certificate. Check locally to see what documents you’ll need.

Getting your CDL

If you’re wondering how long it takes to become a commercial truck driver, most of that depends on how long it takes for you to obtain your CDL. The average training program and process takes roughly seven weeks.

  1. Obtain your US DOT medical card – A big part of keeping your CDL valid is passing a physical exam to ensure you can handle the pressures of driving on the road. You must have your physical performed by a medical examiner approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). You can view the FMCSA registry here.
  2. Attend a driving training program – There are a variety of ways you can gain the proper training to obtain your CDL. Look in your local area and see which companies may offer company-sponsored CDL training. These programs typically take between four to six weeks to complete and tend to cost between $3K–$7K. If you train with a company, they may offer financing options or reimbursement. Be sure to look at community colleges and private driving schools for additional FMCSA-approved choices that can help you get started with your commercial truck driving.
  3. Pass a general knowledge test – Passing this test will allow you to get your CDL learner’s permit, which you’ll need before you can start driving behind the wheel of a rig. Areas you’ll need to study for the knowledge test include driving safety, vehicle inspections, air brakes, and much, much more. Check your local DMV for a copy of the CDL manual for you to study.
  4. Prepare for and take your CDL exam – Before you’re authorized to take the final CDL test, you must have held your learner’s permit for at least two weeks. This ensures you’ve spent enough time practicing the skills needed to be a safe driver. Depending on where you’re testing and what program you’re part of, you’ll need to complete a certain amount of supervised driving hours before taking the final test.
  5. The final exam will require you to take various tests, such as a pre-trip inspection and road test. If you’re planning to handle any specialty cargo such as hazmat, this is when you’ll also test for additional endorsements.

Helpful skills

While these certainly aren’t necessary for working in the trucking industry, these skills and personal traits can help you make the most out of a career in commercial truck driving and help you stand out from the competition:

  • Basic Automotive Knowledge
  • Self Starter
  • Attention to Detail
  • Safety-Oriented
  • Confident Navigator
  • Good Communicator
  • Eager to Learn

Start your career strong with DAT Freight & Analytics

DAT is a well-known and respected name in the trucking industry. In addition to having trucking’s largest load board, we offer a variety of tools and services to help truck drivers, carriers, owner-operators, brokers, and shippers succeed.

From access to the DAT One Load Board, which sees over 1 million loads daily, to freight factoring and even fuel cards — no matter what you need to drive your success, we have the tools and the experts to get you there.

Get your business off the ground ASAP with DAT’s help!

Starting a commercial trucking business is no easy feat — and it requires a lot of paperwork.

With DAT Authority, obtaining your MC / DOT numbers and BOC 3 process agents will be simple! We’ll handle the paperwork, so you can concentrate on growing your business. Get started with DAT Authority today!

Authority: Basic

$ 549 *
  • Includes all federal fees
  • MC / DOT number
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Reach out by calling 800.551.8847

Reach out by calling 800.551.8847

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