An Introduction to Flatbed Truck Driving Jobs
The majority of loads truck drivers haul can be easily transported using tractor-trailers. However, some goods need alternative transportation because of their size and shape. In these cases, companies turn to flatbed truck drivers. Learn about flatbed truck driver jobs, including pros and cons, flatbed driver salaries, license requirements, and potential challenges of the role.
What Does a Flatbed Truck Driver Do?
Flatbed truck drivers drive trucks with a flat, open platform designed to carry large or unusually shaped materials that can’t be transported in regular enclosed trailers. Flatbed trucks are about 48-53 feet long, 102 inches wide, and are made with an aluminum shell and wooden floors.
Due to a flatbed truck’s open deck, goods need to be tied or chained down to keep them secure, and in some cases, a tarp covers and protects the load during transit. Some of the types of cargo that flatbed trucks haul include:
- Mobile homes
- Steel coils
- Oversized pipes
- Heavy machinery
- Tow trucks
- Aluminum extrusions
- Cable reels
- Excavation tools
Is Driving a Flatbed Truck Challenging?
Flatbed truck driving requires a certain set of unique skills that make it more challenging than other traditional forms of truck driving.
Many of the job’s more difficult tasks have to do with transporting oversized items and wide loads. As a flatbed truck driver, you’ll carry overweight or larger items up to 8’6″ wide (or more with wide load permits). This type of cargo can be dangerous to load and unload. Drivers often must climb on top of tall loads when securing the materials, which may increase the risk of falling or injury.
Failure to secure loads tightly may also lead to freight colliding into the truck’s cab or accidentally unloading on the road and injuring motorists. Properly securing and unloading freight requires a lot of strength and stamina, which can be challenging if you’re not used to it.
In addition, flatbed trucks usually have axles that are farther apart, and truckers report that it makes turns more difficult to maneuver.
What to Expect as a Flatbed Truck Driver
When you begin your shift as a flatbed driver, you may either load goods directly from your home truck site or drive to a customer’s location to pick up the load. Depending on what you’re hauling, you must load the materials a certain way at your loading destination and use industry-approved ties and restraints to secure the items properly.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “Cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle by structures of adequate strength, dunnage (loose materials used to support and protect cargo) or dunnage bags (inflatable bags intended to fill space between articles of cargo or between cargo and the wall of the vehicle), shoring bars, tiedowns or a combination of these.”
Flatbed trucks have strict regulations regarding load securement, equipment, load size, load limits, and proper loading and unloading. For instance, truckers must use one tiedown for loads five feet or less in length and 1,100 pounds or less in weight. If the load is five feet or less in length and weighs more than 1,100 pounds or is longer than five feet but less than 10 feet, it needs two tiedowns.
Before you begin driving, you’ll test your restraints and load in several ways—ensuring the materials are safely secured. Flatbed drivers often unload their own trucks, so loading and unloading may take up a substantial part of your day. However, some flatbed items, like a vehicle or manufactured house, may be faster to unload than if you were unloading many small items using a traditional tractor-trailer truck.
Pros and Cons of Being a Flatbed Truck Driver
A job as a flatbed truck driver comes with both advantages and disadvantages that can help you determine if it’s the right career for you.
Pros of flatbed truck driving:
- Because it’s hard to find drivers with flatbed driving skills, those who can drive flatbed trucks usually earn higher pay.
- Drivers can earn extra pay for correctly tarping their cargo.
- Flatbed trucking requires more physical activity from securing and tying down loads; it’s less sedentary than most truck driving jobs.
- Cargo isn’t limited to what can fit inside a trailer, which means greater load and route diversity.
- Drivers can see their cargo, which helps them keep tabs on things as they’re transporting loads.
Cons of flatbed truck driving:
- Flatbed trucking requires increased time spent rigging and unrigging tarps and secures.
- It’s harder to maneuver wide and oversized loads through traffic and when turning.
- There are increased falling and injury risks to drivers from having to climb over and secure heavy loads.
- It poses increased risks to others on the road if cargo accidentally unloads.
Is Flatbed Truck Driving Right for Me?
Flatbed trucking isn’t for every driver. The job comprises significant physical and mental work when loading and unloading goods and securing loads. Some truck drivers find this work stimulating, and others find it draining. Weather can also impact your work and how difficult the job is.
“You generate lots of heat when dealing with tarps,” Larry, a driver from Michigan, says in a TruckingTruth forum. “I love 1) the physical work, 2) the mental work of securement and 3) how my driving day is broken up by the requirement to check the load and tires. However, flat bed isn’t all cake and candles either. In the summer it is hot dirty work and I find I can’t get that shower every day that I would like. Some of the places you go are less than ‘improved.’ To me, it is all part of the adventure.”
Other drivers find the work dangerous, time-consuming, and too physically demanding. If you enjoy challenging work that tests your strength and mind, then this might be the career path for you.
How Do I Become a Flatbed Driver?
Becoming a flatbed driver is similar to beginning a traditional truck driving career. You will need a commercial driver’s license (CDL), and you may benefit from earning some endorsements. The challenges of flatbed driving, however, often mean employers prefer drivers with some experience.
What License Do I Need for Flatbed Truck Driver Jobs?
Due to the combined weight of the truck and potential loads, you will need a CDL Class A driver’s license to operate a flatbed truck. Endorsements aren’t mandatory for flatbed truck driving, but some special haulers may require tanker, hazmat, and doubles and triples endorsements—particularly if you are hauling totes, containers that hold a variety of liquids, semi-solids, or solids.
With a tanker endorsement, you can haul liquid cargo. With a hazmat endorsement, you are able to transport hazardous materials like gasoline and other flammable or toxic substances. A doubles and triples endorsement allows you to haul multiple trailers simultaneously. Earning these endorsements can open you up to a wider pool of job opportunities.
Important Skills for Flatbed Truck Drivers
Three main skills flatbed truck drivers need to be successful and safe on the job are loading, securing, and tarping.
- Loading: Serious accidents can occur if cargo isn’t loaded properly and accurately balanced.
- Securing: If loads aren’t safely secured, drivers run the risk of violating the Department of Transportation’s regulations or causing severe road accidents.
- Tarping: Not every load needs a tarp, but for those that do, correct tarping is vital, so tarps don’t fly off the truck and cause accidents or damage the cargo.
Flatbed Truck Driver Salary
The 2021 median annual salary for all heavy and tractor-trailer drivers was $50,340 per year ($24.20 per hour). However, flatbed truck drivers often make more than regular truck drivers due to the challenging nature of the job.
What Pays More, Dry Van or Flatbed?
Given flatbed truck driving’s challenges, flatbed carriers charge more for their services than dry van carriers. Increased hauling rates mean that employers often pay flatbed drivers more than truck drivers hauling dry goods. Companies also pay flatbed drivers a tarping fee for goods that need protection during transport.
How Much Does a Flatbed Truck Driver Make?
The median wage for flatbed truck driving is approximately $61,000 per year, varying by state and experience. The top 10% can earn as much as $91,000 per year.
The projected job growth rate of trucking jobs is slower than average at 2% from 2019-2029. However, flatbed driving skills are in high demand, so having this type of truck driving experience can make you very competitive in the job market.