How to Become a Truck Driver: Rules and Requirements You Need to Know

The Skills You Need

Transportation is a crucial and long-standing profession, and truckers are the backbone of the transportation industry. 

At first glance, some people think truck driving is easy: all you need to do is pick up cargo from point A and transport it to point B. But there’s a lot more to being a trucker, including knowing the rules of the road and transporting your cargo quickly, efficiently, and safely. To be a professional truck driver, you must meet many requirements and have many skills. 

Driving a car and driving a semi-truck are two entirely different things. To legally operate a truck in the United States, you need a commercial driver’s license, or CDL. 

There are three classes of CDLs in the U.S., and the class you need depends on what type of transportation work you want to do and what kind of vehicle you want to drive. 

Commercial Driver’s License Classes

  • Class A allows you to operate vehicles with gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of over 26,001 pounds as long as the towed vehicle weight is greater than 10,000 pounds. A Class A CDL allows you to drive a range of vehicles, including tractor-trailers, truck and trailer combinations, tanker vehicles, livestock carriers, and flatbeds. Someone with a Class A CDL can operate most commercial vehicles that require a Class B and C license. 

  • Class B is similar to Class A. Class B is required to operate single vehicles that are not hitched to a trailer, like commercial trucks. You may operate vehicles with a GVWR of over 26,001 pounds, but the towed vehicle weight must be less than 10,000 pounds. A Class B license allows you to operate some vehicles that require a Class C license. 

  • Class C licensing is required to operate a commercial vehicle that transports 16 or more people (including the driver). With a Class C license, you can also transport hazardous materials (HazMat).

CDL Endorsements 

As well as a Commercial Driver’s License, you might need endorsements, which you can add to your CDL. Endorsements show that you have received the necessary training and passed the required tests needed to operate specific vehicles and/ or cargo. For each endorsement added to your CDL, you will need to pass a knowledge test or a knowledge and skills test. 

Here’s a table to break this down: 

Endorsement Letter Class A Class B Class C
Hazardous Materials H Yes Yes Yes
Tank Vehicle N Yes Yes Yes
Passenger Vehicle P Yes Yes Yes
School Bus S Yes Yes Yes
Doubles and Triples T Yes No No
Tank+Hazardous Materials X Yes Yes Yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are also endorsements for trucks fitted with air brakes and combined vehicles ( trucks that haul trailers). Concrete mixers don’t use this endorsement.

How to Get Your CDL and Endorsements

To get a CDL and endorsement, you have to take a class at a certified DMV. The length of the courses varies from state to state. These classes teach the required driving skills to safely operate each vehicle. To obtain your license, you will need to pass a knowledge test and road test.

Hazardous Materials: “H” Endorsement

There are a variety of government requirements to obtain the H endorsement. If you’re interested in this endorsement, learn how to comply with federal hazardous materials regulations

Rules Of The Road

Truckers often work long hours to get their cargo to its destination on time. But don’t forget that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has legal requirements that limit these hours. In a 14 hour period, you are legally allowed to drive a maximum of 11 total hours. After this, you must rest for at least 10 hours. 

Your time on and off the road is electronically detected and recorded on your truck. When the truck is moving, your time is automatically recorded in your logbook. Your logbook keeps a record of your past 7 days of driving, and police have a legal right to access this information. 

How Are Truck Drivers Paid?

With long hours comes higher wages than a typical 9 to 5 position. Many companies pay by the mile, using what they call short miles. Short miles are the shortest distance from two points, literally a straight line, and truckers get paid for those miles alone. Any detours from this straight line, for any reason, aren’t paid. 

Some companies have started to use practical miles for their calculations. Practical miles follow a route chosen by a dispatcher. The difference between short miles and practical miles is, on average, approximately 12%, but exact numbers aren’t generally released. 

Truck drivers can also be paid by the load. In this case, your wage depends on what kind of load you are carrying, with higher pay for special or heavier loads and difficult routes. If you are paid by the load, you are paid a percentage of the transport’s total price. In this case, your extra expenses are often covered. 

Finally, truck drivers are sometimes paid by the hour. Pay per hour is mostly for truck drivers who are required to move freight locally or regionally.

How Much Money Do Truck Drivers Make?

Because there are so many different payment types and different companies to work for, truckers’ salary varies. Your salary can also depend on your home state

The average annual salary for a trucker is $45,570, and the average hourly rate is $21.80.

Benefits range from company to company, but it’s not hard to find health insurance, paid vacation, and 401k plans. Many companies also offer bonuses if you meet certain thresholds, time requirements, and safety goals. 

Is Truck Driving Right For You?

Now you know the legal requirements, let’s discuss the mental and physical requirements. 

Most companies require you to be able to lift certain loads by hand. Truckers are usually needed to lift at least 50lbs, with some extreme examples upwards of 100lbs for some employers and industries. Being strong and fit is essential, not only for your job but also for your health and well being. 

Sitting for many hours of driving can take its toll. The physical ability to sit in a truck for 9, 10, or even 11 hours at a time is crucial to your job and your performance as a trucker. 

You also need to be able to stay focused and alert for your entire shift. Mile after mile of highway cruising requires a significant amount of patience and work ethic. And you always have to be on high alert. Your quick reflexes on the road can prevent serious accidents.  

Lastly, some companies may require you to have basic mechanical knowledge of your truck. Trucks can break down unexpectedly, and your ability to deal with small issues on the road will save you hours of time and money. 

For larger repairs and maintenance, you’ll need a team of technicians who have the skills and the parts to keep you on the road. If you’re trucking out of the SF Bay area, give Kelly’s a call for everything from basic maintenance to custom fabrication and repairs. 

No matter where you are on the road, you can quickly and easily request an online custom quote on whatever service you need, and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours. 

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