I’ve decided to go back out on the road again as a professional truck driver. It’s not something I really wanted to do, but given the options available to me it was the best course of action. It’s popular in our social media age to talk about chasing dreams and following our passions. Sometimes it seems that blue-collar jobs and getting your hands dirty is looked down on, but it’s how I grew up and it’s a way of life that’s never failed me. There are times as a man, and an adult when you need to recognize that you need to get things done, suck it up and move forward. This is one of those times.
I’ve held a Class-A CDL (Commercial Driver’s License,) continuously since leaving the Marines in the year 2000. Trucking has always been my fall back option for making money. For the most part it’s a recession proof industry and good drivers with safe records are always in demand. Next to turning wrenches and building engines it’s probably the thing I am best at doing.
Making this decision got me thinking about all those new drivers considering a career in truck driving. I have the benefit of time and experience in the industry at my back. I’ve got almost a million and a half miles under my belt and 19 years of driving across the country. I know what I’m getting in to. I understand the life and what it entails. I know the risks, and for the most part how to minimize them. With that I understand the dangers involved and the difficulty in doing the job right and doing it well. If you are or know someone who’s thinking about getting their CDL and driving a big semi, let me share a few observations with you that may help you make your decision with open eyes and a better understanding of the industry.
First things first, Over the Road driving is not a job, it’s a life. That life will not just impact you but your family as well. You live, eat, and sleep on that truck. It is your home, your office, your bedroom, gym, and unfortunately sometimes even your bathroom. If you are serious about making good money, you better get comfortable with not being home every night or even every other weekend. When trucking companies give salary estimates and averages they’re talking about their top earner’s, the high milers who stay out and keep that truck rolling. Some companies do offer a guaranteed minimum salary but that is just a gross number before taxes and other deductions like insurance. The guys making $65K or more a year aren’t home every weekend.
Long haul trucking is not like most other jobs, except maybe the military or the maritime marine industry. Your hours aren’t set and though you may have to abide by the FMCSA’s HOS (Hours of Service) rules, it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be working past your 11 hour drive time or 14 hour on duty time. In Flatbed, I’ve had days that went 16 hours or more and sadly, that’s just part of the job. But you do what you have to do to get the job done.
I’ve read a lot of complaints and comments on company review boards that say, “it’s not enough pay for the hours you work.” On first look it’s easy to say that’s true but let’s be real here. First off when you’re sitting at the truck stop on your 10 hour break or 34 hour reset, you’re not working and you shouldn’t be paid for it. It’s no different than driving local and then going home at the end of the night, it just so happens that your home is a foot away from where you spent the day “working.” If you’re on duty, waiting at a shipper or receiver, getting loaded, or waiting to unload, yes you should totally get paid for that time. Will you, only to a point and then probably not what you’d hoped for, but we all knew that going in and it’s part of the job.
Let me say this once and for all, there are a lot of things about our job as drivers that suck but it is part of the package deal. There are other jobs in other industries that suck worse, you could be on the Bering Sea crab fishing, you could be in some godforsaken dust hole getting shot at and eating MRE’s for a year at a time without getting to come home. What blows my mind are brand new entitled drivers going into fleets right out of school and then first expecting to be paid the same as experienced drivers, than second expecting the whole industry to change to suit what they feel it should be like. Wake up guys and gals and be real. This is what you signed up for. We all did our time paying our dues and building up our experience.
Here’s another thing and the last I’ll leave you with for this article. Just because you’re out on the road by yourself doesn’t give you an excuse to not behave as a professional. A lot of new drivers are going to fail for one simple reason, a lack of discipline. This job may not be like most, but it’s still a job. You still have things to get done and people to report to. Learn to manage your time and use it efficiently and wisely. Don’t sit any longer than you have to. Once your break is done get rolling if you can. You may be able to load or unload earlier than your scheduled time and get another load sooner. More importantly until you go Owner-Operator you’re still someone’s employee, in their truck, spending their money to make your living, never forget that. The guy sitting at the truck-stop bitching and moaning about how bad his company sucks and how he tells them what he will and will not do is first off completely full of shit, and secondly a cancer to be avoided at all cost.
If you want to make money as a company driver be willing to take any load and go to any destination during your first few months and year. For one thing, you need the experience and for another, who are you to dictate where you will and will not go? Some companies suck, and many take advantage of drivers but let’s get something straight companies do not exist do give you the new driver a job, they exist to make the owners and shareholders a profit. This is business my friend pure and simple. You can resent that and let it eat you alive from the inside or you can use that to your advantage. If you’re an inexperienced young driver and some company is willing to sit you in their $200,000 truck and take a chance on you, first you should be grateful, second you should take your opportunity to learn the trade, practice your skills, and bide your time until you can apply to some better companies. Time goes by really fast on the big road and you’ll be in a position to ask for higher pay and better privileges before you know it. In the meantime use the position you find yourself in to your advantage.
Be safe out there, keep your eyes open and both hands on the wheel.