OTR Trucking: An Intro to Over the Road Driving
If you’re an independent person who longs for a life on the open road, over-the-road (OTR) trucking may be a good fit for you. Read on to learn about this career, including what you could expect on an average day, types of jobs you could have, what license you need, and salary and growth expectations in the field.
What is OTR Trucking?
OTR trucking refers to truck drivers who haul loads over long distances, often spending weeks away from home at a time. The distance and type of freight can vary by industry and company. Over-the-road drivers often drive several hundred miles a day. Typically, OTR drivers sleep in their sleeper berth, which is part of their truck.
What Are the Differences Between OTR, Regional, and Local Trucking?
The main differences between OTR, regional, and local trucking are the distance the truckers drive and how long they’re away from home.
OTR trucking requires drivers to be on the road for weeks, while regional and local truck drivers take shorter hauls. A regional trucker hauls freight in a specific region, such as the southern or the northwestern United States, and might expect to return home every few days. Local trucking generally refers to drivers who specialize in hauling cargo short distances, generally less than a 200-mile radius. Local truckers are often home in the evenings after working an 8-to-10-hour shift.
OTR, regional, and local truckers often earn different rates, with OTR drivers generally earning a much higher rate than local or regional drivers.
What Does an OTR Truck Driver Do?
An OTR truck driver is responsible for driving tractor-trailers transporting goods across long distances. However, OTR trucking is more than just driving. As an OTR driver, you may also be responsible for tracking your miles, performing safety checks, arranging for truck maintenance, and communicating with dispatch (or clients, if you’re an owner-operator.)
What to Expect as an OTR Truck Driver
Life as an OTR driver is not easy or for everyone. You may have an irregular sleep schedule, as some drivers prefer driving at night when there is less traffic. Your schedule may be further altered based on your assignments. After getting a solid night (or day) of sleep, you’ll check your route for the day, see if there are any weather alerts or traffic that might slow you down, and hit the road.
When you reach your pick-up destination, you either do a live load of your haul, where you schedule an appointment to have your truck loaded, or do a drop-and-hook, where the trailers are loaded before you arrive. Drop-and hooks tend to be faster than live loads, so you may earn more if your job does drop-and-hook loading.
Once your haul is on your truck, you can start driving. You may drive straight through and wait to eat until the end of your day or take periodic breaks. (Federal regulations require a half-hour break after driving for eight cumulative hours without a break.) If you have a regular route, you may be able to able to find a comfortable routine.
At the end of each day on the road, you need to find a safe place to park your truck. This may be off an interstate exit, a rest stop, or a truck stop. Sometimes, you may park whereever it’s convenient if you’re nearing your work limit for the day.
This schedule usually repeats for three to four weeks, then you’ll spend a few days or more at home before heading back out on the road.
OTR Driving as a Solo Driver vs. Team
As an OTR trucker, you may work as a solo driver, taking time off the road to sleep and rest every day, or be part of a team so you can trade off driving. Usually, one driver sleeps in the sleeper berth while the other driver keeps the wheels moving. Team drivers may earn a higher income due to driving more miles in shorter times, and if you’re more of an extrovert, having a partner could help stave off loneliness. However, team driving can be stressful due to the amount of time you spend with a coworker. Married team drivers aren’t unusual.
Being an OTR Company Driver vs. Owner-Operator
As an OTR trucker, you might own or lease your truck as an owner-operator or work as an employee of a trucking or logistics company. Owner-operators operate their own small business, though they may be contracted with and receive support from a trucking company. They have more freedom to decide what loads to take but are also responsible for finding their own loads, ensuring they meet all federal requirements for rest, loading up, and maintaining their truck. Company OTR truckers are paid according to their employer’s pay structure but have fewer responsibilities and pick up loads when directed by their company dispatch.
What Are Common Jobs for OTR Drivers?
Depending on the type of truck you drive and the company you work for, you might deliver items like auto parts, commercial goods, automobiles, food, animals, or fuel. OTR driving jobs vary based on the company you work for and whether you work solo or as part of a team. Location, the type of truck you drive, license endorsements, and your experience may also impact the type of job you’re eligible for.
This kind of driver can take on most jobs requiring a CDL A. Most of them drive semi-trucks, and they can get endorsements for different types of materials they can haul. For OTR drivers, it may be most beneficial to get these endorsements:
- H: HAZMAT
- N: Liquids and gases
- T: Double and triple trailer
- X: Combination of H and N
How Much Time Do OTR Drivers Spend on the Road?
Federal regulations allow OTR drivers to be on duty for up to 14 hours a day, but you’re limited to 11 hours of driving time. Most OTR drivers spend three to four weeks on the road, then a week at home before returning to work. Some can be on the road for as long as six weeks.
“There will be days where you only drive a few hours and then have to sit while you wait to deliver. There will be other days where you’re pushing your clock to the limit just trying to get close to a delivery time. Those are the times where anything and everything that could possibly happen to slow you down will happen. Constantly.”
What License Do I Need to be an OTR Truck Driver?
OTR truckers need a CDL A license, which allows you to drive large trucks with a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 26,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater. Additional commercial endorsements are required to drive specialized types of trucks.
What Are Some Pros and Cons of OTR Trucking?
As with any job, there are pros and cons of being an OTR trucker. Here are a few factors to keep in mind if you’re considering a career in OTR trucking.
Pros of OTR Trucking
- High earning potential
- Guaranteed time off (by federal regulations)
- Doesn’t require a college degree
- Explore the country
- Meet new people
- Highly independent job
Cons of OTR Trucking
- Lack of set income due to pay structure (per mile vs. a set salary)
- Long hours
- Spend weeks at a time away from home
- Mostly a sedentary job
- Can be lonely
“Trucking is only sedentary and unhealthy if you let it be that way. Nothing stops you from doing basic exercises in your truck on your breaks, and you can eat healthy on the road as well. It’s all in the choices you make, just like it is at your desk job.”
Is OTR Trucking Right for Me?
OTR truck driving isn’t an easy job. Truck drivers often spend weeks away from home, work long hours, and must carefully follow the rules and regulations. However, if you’re an independent worker, enjoy adventure, and are willing to work hard, OTR truck driving can be a well-paying, fulfilling position.
What Are the Salary and Job Growth Opportunities in OTR Truck Driving?
OTR drivers tend to earn more than other types of truck drivers. Additional endorsements to drive specialized loads can help increase your earning potential. For instance, a driver with a specialization to drive hazardous loads may earn more than a dry freight truck driver.
Trucking companies pay per mile and may pay bonuses for long trips, offer a higher per-mile rate for specialized loads, or offer sign-on bonuses. O*Net reports the average salary for an over-the-road driver in the United States is $45,260 per year.
Statistics show a bright job outlook for heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers. Between 2019 and 2029, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 2% growth rate. However, this doesn’t factor in the massive truck driver shortage the country is experiencing—the BLS projection method is based on unemployment, which may understate the huge and growing demand for qualified drivers in this type of job. As of 2019, the industry is in need of 60,800 drivers. It’s expected there will be a need for an average of 110,000 new drivers per year through 2029.
An over-the-road job can be very rewarding. If you’re ready to rack up the miles. Look at OTR job listings to find opportunities hiring in your area.