Truck Driving Jobs: Careers in Commercial Truck Driving
There are many careers available in commercial truck driving. From delivering consumer items to homes to hauling freight across the country to getting passengers to their destinations, chances are you can find a career in commercial driving that interests you.
General Commercial Driving Requirements
There is a huge variety of jobs in commercial truck driving, each with its own requirements. This is a very brief overview of typical job requirements.
- Truck and passenger vehicle drivers almost always need commercial driver licenses (CDLs). CDL A allows you to drive the largest types of vehicles, with the size limits getting progressively smaller for CDLs B and C.
- Some jobs require special endorsements, which are typically obtained through an exam and, at times, additional training and background checks.
- You need to be at least 21 years old for most driving jobs.
- You need to pass a physical exam.
An Overview of Commercial Truck Driving Careers
Jump directly to any of these careers to start learning about average salary, job growth, home time, requirements, and job duties.
When CDL types are mentioned in the job listings below, those are the minimums required. For instance, if it says the type of CDL needed is B, you may also drive the vehicle if you have a CDL A, though certain jobs may require additional endorsements.
Over-the-road (OTR) truck drivers, also called long-haul truck drivers, carry all types of goods all over the country and sometimes into Canada and Mexico.
Fast Facts About OTR Truck Driving
These drivers spend much of their lives on the road, driving hundreds of miles per day for up to 11 hours of drive time in 14 hours. The actual number of hours driven will depend on your specific job. You're unlikely to be on a set schedule, with your employer's needs playing a major role when it comes to which hours you're on the road, doing drop-offs or pickups, and so forth.
An average day will include getting your haul loaded onto your truck, driving your route with your mandated breaks, and finding a place to park and sleep for the night. You're required to take a thirty-minute break if more than eight consecutive hours have gone by since you were last off duty. If you have worked for eight hours and taken your break, you may drive for an additional three to get to your 11-hour total allowance if required by your company. Should weather conditions slow you down, you may be able to add two hours to your maximum driving and duty hours.
Pay for OTR truck driving isn't often done by the hour or year—it's usually based on miles driven. Team drivers split the miles evenly, and one can drive while the other is on their mandated 10 hours off—trucks generally have sleeping spaces available. These jobs sometimes pay less per mile, but you could end up being paid more than if you drive alone with more miles driven in total.
The total salary above factors in all types of heavy and tractor-trailer drivers, including regional and local. OTR drivers often make more money than regional and local drivers, though if a good deal of time at home is important to you, it's worth weighing pay versus work-life balance.
Regional truck drivers move through specific parts of the country, usually within about 1,000 miles of their homes.
Fast Facts About Regional Truck Driving
If you want to be home more regularly while still spending a good deal of time on the road, regional truck driving may be a better fit than OTR. While days may vary, regional jobs tend to operate within normal business days more frequently than OTR positions. Regional drivers are limited to 11 hours of driving time within 14 hours, with your company determining the specific schedule. You may drive solo or as a team in this career as well.
A typical day for a regional truck driver is like that of an OTR driver: You get your haul, you drive it to its location, and you rest for the night. However, since this is a smaller area, you may end up offloading your haul the same day you took it on, sometimes even immediately taking a new haul before continuing on your way.
How regional drivers are paid varies by the type of job you do. Some are paid by the mile, which could result in lower pay than OTR drivers because of the shorter distances. However, it's possible to increase this if you also do live unloads where you wait for the warehouse to unload and take the empty container to its destination. You could also end up getting paid by the load plus the number of miles you drive.
Local truck driving involves hauling materials to locations near you, almost always within a range allowing you to return home every night.
Fast Facts About Local Truck Driving
Working as a local truck driver typically means working eight to 10 hours per day on a set schedule. You're more likely to make several stops in a day than as a regional driver, and you may end up doing some loading and unloading work in addition to driving.
Unlike OTR and regional driving, it's very rare to have a team driving locally. However, it may happen if you're doing delivery work that requires extra hands.
Pay is usually determined by the hour as opposed to the mile.
Passenger vehicle drivers get people where they need to go via transport like buses. These can be interstate or local, from distances as nearby as shuttling people from a hotel to an event to as far as across the country.
Fast Facts About Passenger Truck Driving
Passenger vehicle drivers can drive no more than 10 hours after eight consecutive off-duty hours, and those 10 hours must be completed within 15 hours. However, if bad weather ensues, these time limits can be increased by up to two hours.
You can expect to take on passengers, ensure they understand and follow the rules, and handle any passenger issues that may arise. If you have patrons with disabilities, you may need to help them enter and exit the vehicle, get them strapped in appropriately, and convince other passengers to allow them to have the seating area they require.
The salary information above includes all passenger vehicle drivers, from shuttle bus operators to long-distance passenger vehicle drivers. Passenger vehicle drivers are typically paid by the hour, though this may vary depending on the type of driving and individual company. In some circumstances, drivers may accept tips.
Passenger Driving Careers
Passenger bus driving careers requiring a CDL involve driving vehicles carrying a minimum of 16 people, including the driver. This type of driver needs a CDL A or B, depending on the vehicle being driven. Different vehicles require different endorsements as well.
Fast Facts About Bus Driving
Time home varies based on the type of job. If you drive a local vehicle, such as a city bus route, you'll be home each night. If you drive cross-country, you'll be home less often, though more frequently than OTR drivers.
Depending on the planned trip's length, some drivers work in teams. For instance, if you're taking a group on a 20-hour drive and they don't want to stop for the night, this may result in a second driver being on board, though not necessarily on duty. If you're not on a team and you unexpectedly have to stop for your mandated off-duty hours, you can call dispatch to send out a relay driver to relieve you.
School Bus Driver
Fast Facts About School Bus Driving
School bus drivers work with children and young adults, transporting them to and from school, field trips, and after school care programs. In the summers or during breaks, they may be employed by summer camps and similar activities.
Auto transporters, also called car haulers or auto haulers, move other vehicles from one place to another. These are not to be confused with tow truck drivers; while tow truck drivers usually take single vehicles to tow yards or mechanics, auto transporters work more like shipping and delivery drivers. This could include moving vehicles from building locations to car dealers, taking cars from dealers to buyers in other places, or moving vehicles across the country for individuals who are taking a different type of transportation during a move, among other things.
Fast Facts About Truck Driving
This job is often OTR or regional, though local options are sometimes available.
When an auto hauler takes on a new job, they need to inspect all the cars before they get loaded onto the trailer. It's important to ensure the vehicles are the correct ones and look for damage—any unreported damages can come out of your pay. When the cars are loaded, you must check that the vehicles are secure and your overall load doesn't exceed the legal maximums for weight or height.
There are two basic types of auto transport: open and enclosed. If you've driven down the highway and seen a truck with several cars being carried behind—and even on top of—it, that's open transport. Enclosed transport is when there are fewer vehicles inside of an enclosed trailer. Open transport is commonly used for "typical" cars, while enclosed is often reserved for very expensive, custom, or vintage vehicles.
As of January 25, 2021, the average salary for auto transporters is just over $89,600 per year, according to Indeed.com. The higher salary is because, despite not needing additional endorsements, people hired for this career often need to prove their abilities for several years in another role requiring a CDL A before a company will hire them.
Delivery truck drivers pick up and drop off packages in local areas. They load and unload packages, inventory their hauls as the day goes on, and ensure their freight's safety. Their deliveries can range from tiny trinkets ordered online to larger things like furniture.
Fast Facts About Delivery Truck Driving
Delivery drivers work for a company delivering items to individuals and businesses in a local area. They may work long days, but they're almost always home at the end of their shifts. If they work in teams, it usually means one person stays in the vehicle as a dedicated driver and backup to their partner if they need assistance when they carry packages to doors. Or, the two work together to move large items from trucks to their buyers.
Depending on the type of vehicle driven, you may or may not need a commercial driver's license for this job. A good rule of thumb is the larger the vehicle, the more you'll likely need a CDL.
Pay is usually hourly, though you'll typically have to keep track of your miles driven.
Dry vans drivers don't drive vans—they drive most of the large trucks you see on the road. A "dry van" is the trailer that hauls shipments not requiring temperature control.
Fast Facts About Dry Van Driving
As these are the most common large transport drivers on the road, you can expect to have the same responsibilities as any of the overarching OTR, regional, or local drivers, depending on how far you drive. Expect to pick up freight from one company and take it to a destination, occasionally with stops and reloads along the way.
Team driving depends on how far you drive and the type of company you work for. If you drive OTR or regionally, you may split mileage with your teammate. Pay can be hourly, by the mile, or a combination, depending on the job you have. Likewise, the amount of time spent away from home will vary based on how far you drive.
Dump truck drivers move materials like gravel, crushed rocks, and garbage from one location to another in a flat, open trailer assisting with loading and singlehandedly unloading their hauls.
Fast Facts About Dump Truck Driving
Driving a dump truck rarely takes you far from home, typically keeping you within your county. You'll likely have a full day of carrying multiple hauls to various locations, but you're almost guaranteed to be home every night. An average day consists of inspecting the truck, picking up a materials load, transporting it to its destination, and using levers and cranks to unload them. Then, you'll likely repeat this several times throughout your day.
Like other truck drivers, you're likely to be responsible for some maintenance of the truck. This includes greasing it to ensure everything is in good working order, checking fluid levels, and so forth.
While staying close to home may sound great, this job is best suited for those who don't get bored easily. Dump truck driving tends to follow the same pattern each day. It can also be a bit isolating, as you rarely get to drive with a second person in the vehicle, and most of your work is done from within the truck.
The weather can affect how much work you have, depending on where you live. Harsh winters are rough on the vehicles and the drivers, as the nature of the job is dangerous enough without contending with the elements. However, if you're a seasoned driver, you may find yourself well-positioned for year-round work.
While most dump trucks require drivers with CDL B licenses, there are opportunities to drive tractor-trailer dump trucks, which require a CDL A. Since this is a local job, you'll probably get paid by the hour.
Flatbed truck drivers haul trailers with no sides or tops. This is generally because their loads are too large for box trucks. Flatbed trucks come in various styles, from small trucks with trailers that can only handle a couple of thousand pounds up to massive vehicles capable of hauling 45,000 pounds. However, most jobs are in the larger categories.
Fast Facts About Flatbed Truck Driving
Flatbed truck drivers can work locally, regionally, or OTR, so the time you get to spend at home varies based on the type of work you do. You could find yourself overseeing a haul—or more than one—being loaded, transported, and unloaded every single day. Or, you might drive something across the country, only receiving new hauls every few days.
This type of driving is best for people who can do a lot of physical work. The job requires you to be actively involved with the loading and unloading of materials, as you're ultimately responsible for their safe transport. Additionally, you need to be detail-oriented and react quickly and effectively to every movement your truck makes. Even a tiny error in loading can result in the truck becoming imbalanced and putting you and other drivers at risk.
Depending on if you're working locally, regionally, or OTR, you could be paid hourly or by the mile.
HAZMAT truck drivers carry hazardous materials deemed dangerous by the Department of Transportation.
Fast Facts About HAZMAT Truck Driving
HAZMAT drivers not only need their CDL, but they need an H or X endorsement. Getting that endorsement requires a passing score on an exam and an extensive background check due to the dangerous nature of the hauls.
Safety first is the name of the game in HAZMAT driving, and it's a game you need to win. The job requires the ability to make big decisions quickly because of the materials being handled and the fact that the smallest hiccup can be disastrous. You need to balance delivering materials on time—both because of standard deadlines and because some materials can only be safely transported for a limited period—and deciding when you need to make a move as extreme as stopping for several hours due to dangerous conditions.
However, if you can handle the risks, the rewards can be great. The job often pays more than many other truck driving jobs, and thanks to the nature of the job, fewer people choose it—meaning there could be more opportunities than in other areas of trucking.
Pay could be by the mile or by the hour, depending on the distance driven.
Less than truckload (LTL) drivers carry various types of freight at once. It doesn't mean the truck won't be full; rather, the truck won't be full of any one type of material, hence the job title.
Fast Facts About LTL Truck Driving
LTL driving is more loosely defined than other types of driving. Some LTL drivers focus on picking up materials to drop off at a central hub, while others deliver materials several times a day. LTL drivers may have a standard route or pick up and drop off items by appointment. The primary norm is these jobs are almost always local, allowing you to be home at the end of the day.
A major part of an LTL driver's job is getting materials into the truck in a way that saves on space, almost like a long-running game of Tetris.
Pay for this career can be hourly, by drop-off/pickup, or a combination of the two. Pay by the mile is rare.
Tanker truck drivers carry liquids. These could include liquids like milk or more dangerous ones like gasoline.
Fast Facts About Tanker Truck Driving
Driving a tanker truck is a risky job, no matter what liquids you're hauling, as liquid is constantly in motion, meaning the truck could easily become unbalanced. Further, if you drive fuel or other hazardous liquids, you have the added risk of dealing with flammable materials that may give off fumes.
Because of this, tanker truck drivers need to be highly focused and able to think on their feet. Meticulous recordkeeping is also essential.
These careers can keep you local or have you drive regionally or OTR, so there isn't an average amount of time spent at home. This also affects what your day looks like, though it's not uncommon to make several stops to load up your vehicle and far fewer to unload it. Whether you're paid hourly or by the mile depends on the type of driving you do.
Truck driving management careers, commonly called fleet or freight management, involve overseeing any truck driving or passenger vehicle business operations.
Fast Facts About Fleet Truck Driving
Careers in fleet management typically require years of working in the truck driving industry as drivers, mechanics, or in other roles. Fleet managers are responsible for handling employee issues, ensuring legal compliance, taking care of the budgets, dealing with emergencies, and more.
These positions are typically salaried.
Truck driving instructors, also called CDL instructors, teach new drivers the ins and outs of the career.
Fast Facts About Truck Driver Instructors
CDL driving instructors create and execute lesson plans for classroom and hands-on learning. Lessons need to be in line with state and federal regulations.
To become a truck driving instructor, you need to be an experienced driver and proficient in the types of vehicles you're using for instruction. You must also balance being patient with people who may have never driven a truck before with the urgency of doing things right when behind the wheel.
Company Driver vs. Owner-Operator
Company drivers are employed by companies and exclusively drive their employers' trucks, while owner-operators own or lease their own trucks and partner with a company as independent business owners.
Those who drive for companies must follow their rules and accept the employer's pay. The pay is sometimes lower than for owner-operators, but company drivers aren't required to pay for maintenance on their own trucks and are more likely to have employer-funded health insurance.
Owner-operators can set their own pay to a certain extent, which is often higher than company drivers. However, they must pay maintenance costs, acquire their own health insurance, and pay taxes as business owners rather than employees.
Company driving is almost certainly a better fit if you're new to the field, as you can continue getting feedback and don't have to look for your own work or worry about the expenses that come with owning or leasing a vehicle.
How Do Truck Drivers Get Paid?
Truck drivers are paid in four primary ways:
For OTR driving, getting paid by the mile is the most common. Regional driving may either be hourly or by the mile. Mileage-based pay is usually between $0.37 and $0.55 per mile, with drivers typically covering 2,000 to 3,000 miles per week.
Regional and local driving are also often paid hourly, though local drivers may be paid per completed task. For instance, if they do four materials pickups in a day, they'd be paid for four pickups. This may be supplemented by pay per mile or hour.
Bonuses for drivers are also common. Drivers are frequently given sign-on bonuses of a few thousand dollars, and additional bonuses may be available if drivers are using fuel efficiently, driving safely, and meeting goals. The bonuses vary based on the reason for the bonus and the individual company.
Drivers are very rarely salaried, though it does happen. Salaries are more common for those in management positions.
Pay for Trucking Company Employees vs. Owner-Operators
Drivers who work for a company may experience more reliable pay, as the employer sets their rates and hours. They may also receive health insurance and other benefits from their employer. However, this pay can be lower than for those who own their vehicles.
Those who own their own trucks have more control over their own schedules and can set their own pay, but the lower pay security may balance out the opportunities. While you can contract yourself to a particular company, many drivers offer their services to several companies at once. They could have constant work, or there could be gaps. They are also responsible for finding their own insurance, covering their self-employment tax, and handling all maintenance issues.
Is a Career in Commercial Truck Driving Right for Me?
Trucking isn't right for everyone, but it could be right for you.
Traits of Successful Truck Drivers
Those who thrive in truck driving generally share some common traits. In addition to being excellent drivers, successful truck drivers typically are:
Speaking an additional language doesn't hurt, as you'll be interacting with people from all over the country.
Pros and Cons of Commercial Truck Driving Jobs
It's best to go into any career with open eyes—no job is perfect. Here are some pros and cons of this career field:
Pros of Commercial Driving Careers
Cons of Commercial Driving Careers
Related Jobs Your CDL Can Get You Outside of Truck and Passenger Driving
In addition to the jobs above, your CDL or truck driving job could lead to other relevant careers. You don't necessarily need a CDL for all of these jobs, but it could give you an edge. Some potential options are:
Resources for Future Truck Drivers
American Trucking Associations
Membership organization with a wealth of resources for both members and non-members
Class A Truck Driving CDL
Everything you need to know about CDL A licenses
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
The federal resource for all trucking laws and regulations
First Year as a Truck Driver
What you should expect your first year of driving
Finding Your Next Truck Driving Job: Top 10 Tips for Truck Driver Job Search
Information about finding trucking jobs
Created for fleet owners but valid for anyone, providing a wealth of resources about the industry
How Can I Study for My CDL Test?
Tips to help you pass your CDL exam
Tons of questions and answers about the field, and you can always join to ask your own