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Truck Driving as a Career

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The driver is the trucking industry symbol with which people are most familiar. He is the part of the industry that is visible on streets and highways.

Skilled and courteous drivers are needed to guide the large tractor-trailers, filled with goods of every description, from city to city, frequently under the handicap of bad weather, heavy traffic, or other undesirable conditions.

Real Satisfaction and Adventure



A career as a truck driver is a responsible job and requires skill and good judgment. The truck driver is entrusted with equipment and cargo valued at many thousands of dollars. It is a satisfying and financially rewarding job as well.

Truck driving is divided into two major categories: (1) over- the-road driving, and (2) short-haul and city pickup and delivery.

Some long-haul drivers will drive 200 or 300 miles in one direction and then turn around and drive another truck back to their home terminal.

Another will make a considerably longer trip, will then "lay over," get a good night's sleep, and return to his home terminal the next day. Other long-distance drivers operate in teams of two men each on "sleeper runs." In that manner a truck can keep going and each man drives for four hours or so, rests an hour, and sleeps for four hours. Some large cross-country operations are handled in that way.

Some long-distance truck operations resemble the famous Pony Express of the Wild West days. The truck may start out from the East Coast with a driver, and then at "relay stations" the driver gets off the truck, the truck is serviced, safety inspections made, a new driver goes aboard, and the truck keeps rolling.

As we go through the decade of the 1970's toward the 1980's there will be an increasing need for good truck drivers to pilot skillfully the nearly 25,000,000 trucks expected to be on the highways by that time.

Even though patterns of transportation may change because of developments such as air freight, railroad piggyback, and other transportation techniques, the need for drivers will always be strong.

A substantial growth in the volume of intercity freight will result from increased commercial and industrial activity and from the trend of industry to decentralize to locations far beyond the cities. The number of vacancies in over-the-road truck-driver jobs is expected to be approximately 12,000 each year, and nearly 20,000 vacancies a year are anticipated for the local and short-haul truck-driving occupations.

The continued growth of suburban areas and large shopping centers will bring the need for local drivers, plus the fact that greater and greater volumes of freight will be carried by truck over long distances.

Over-the-Road Driving Rewards

Most over-the-road truck drivers earn between $12,500 and $13,000 per year. The rates are fairly uniform, as this is a highly unionized field, and employer contracts cover all employees within a region and even in the nation under some labor contract arrangements.

Longer runs are generally paid on a mileage basis for actual driving time. For all other time the driver is required to be on duty he is paid an hourly rate.

The earnings of an individual driver are affected by such factors as number of hours worked, the mileage driven, the type of equipment operated, or the weight of the load, the type of run, and the nature of the commodity carried. Premium rates are paid for transporting flammable or otherwise hazardous materials.

The men who pick up and deliver goods from warehouses, airports, factories, rail yards, and other places for delivery to a store, shopping center, supermarket, or to the home must be highly skilled drivers.

Driving in a city presents many more hazards and chances for accidents, so the city driver has to be especially good. He needs finely developed skills to be able to jockey large tractor-trailers up to loading docks and platforms and through narrow alleys.

The local driver receives his assignments from a warehouse or terminal and makes pickups, or deliveries, or both.

A large number of local and short-haul truck drivers work for firms that manufacture or deliver their own product, such as food stores, department stores, newspapers, fuel oil companies, bottling companies, and many others.

On the average, the annual income for local truck drivers is approximately $10,000 to $10,300, according to surveys made in several large cities. The wage scales, however, sometimes differ even in the same city, depending on the type of trucking service (such as general freight hauling or local moving and storage), the type of product hauled, and the size and type of truck operated. For the most part, local truck drivers are paid by the hour and receive extra pay for working overtime, usually after 40 hours; some drivers are guaranteed minimum daily or weekly earnings.

Many local drivers often work 48 hours a week or more and thus often drive six days a week. Unlike the over-the-road truck driver, the local driver works all day and is home each evening. Some local drivers, however, do have unusual hours when nighttime or early morning deliveries are necessary of such things as perishables or foodstuff for chain grocery stores, produce markets, bakeries, and for resupplying hotels and similar operations.

Insurance and Pension Plans

Over-the-road drivers, as well as local drivers and their helpers, are covered by life and health insurance and pension plans, which are almost always paid for by the employer. If a uniform is required, the cost is usually paid entirely or partly by the employer, who may also provide for the cleaning and upkeep of the uniform. Many people in the trucking industry consider the local driver a more skillful driver because he drives in heavier traffic and is subject to many more hazards than the long-distance driver. In general, however, the local truck driver seems to like the type of work he does because his work is quite regular, the employment is steady, and he is able to return home in the evening to be with his family.

Job Requirements

What are the requirements for a long-distance or over-the-road truck driver? The U.S. Department of Transportation sets include driving his private car, and a good driving record. Most states demand that truck drivers have a chauffeur's license, which is a commercial driving permit, obtained from state motor vehicle departments.

The average truck fleet, however, has higher standards than the Department of Transportation normally prescribes. A good many truck firms will not hire drivers under age 25, and some specify height and weight limitations. Other companies require at least a grade-school education, others require two years of high school. Some companies employ only applicants who have had several years of experience in handling the type of vehicles they will be required to drive.

Long-haul, or over-the-road driving, is considered a senior driving job and most drivers usually have had previous experience as a local city driver. As a general rule, they begin this occupation by first driving a small light truck, perhaps for a neighborhood grocery store or a valet shop; then, after acquiring more experience, they get jobs driving the larger and more complicated vehicles. A young man may also start as a helper to a local truck driver, assisting him in loading and unloading the truck and occasionally doing some relief driving.

In addition to general health requirements, it is also important to note that the applicant must not have a record of drug usage. The new Department of Transportation regulations are another reason young people who expect to enjoy a career in the transportation industry should refrain from using dangerous drugs or alcohol.

It is a good idea for a young person who contemplates a career as a truck driver to begin by taking the driver-training course offered by many high schools. If such a course is not available, the commercial driving schools that operate in most large cities are recommended. It is also a good idea to take a high-school course in automotive mechanics in order to have some knowledge of the workings of the engines and mechanical parts of the vehicle.

Truck Driver Training Schools

Young men who wish to take courses to become a professional truck driver should make a thorough investigation of the school before enrolling or signing any contract. Above all, beware of any truck-driving school that "promises" high-paying truck- driving jobs.

It is a good idea to contact the safety supervisor or personnel department of a truck line in your area and ask them about any school that might interest you. They should know whether it is a good one or not.

Here are some things to look for in any truck-driving school.

The school should have adequate facilities, equipment, and trained instructors. There should be classrooms comparable in every way to those you have been used to in high school.

The equipment used for instruction, the trucks, tractors, and semitrailers, should be relatively new and in top condition and should represent the kinds of trucks with which employers would want you to be familiar.

A truck-driving school must have good instructors with proper background and experience in driver training and they should preferably hold some qualifying certificate from an educational institution as teachers or driver-trainers. This may be a certificate of attendance at a driver-trainer course offered at a university or college.

A license or certificate for the school and each instructor, if required by the state, should be prominently displayed.

It is a good idea to determine if the school has been accredited by the Accreditation Committee of the National Committee of the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools. Such accreditation means the school has high standards of operation.

Do not be afraid to ask questions about the school's qualifications. After all, you are the customer and they should be eager and willing to answer all such questions.

Before Signing the Contract

Do not sign a contract for a driver-training school until you have read every word of it and understand it thoroughly. Do not let anyone rush you into signing. You should understand to what degree you are obligated to the school and also what the school must do for you in order to fulfill its part of the contract.

Be certain about tuition costs and possible forfeiture of your down payment if you don't take the training. Also, be careful about dropping out--you may be liable for the full amount of your contract.

If you have to have room and board, make sure the accommodations are adequate and make a definite agreement on the costs.

Should you have dependents, be sure they have enough money to live on while you are taking the course.

Check to determine if there are truck-driving jobs available in your own area before you take the course and realize that you may have to move to some other city or state in order to get a job.

Do not count on starting at the top salary in the truck-driving field right away, but on starting as a dockworker or pickup and delivery driver from which jobs you can work your way to the top over-the-road driving jobs.

Community Colleges Offer Driving Courses

One truck-driving school in Cleveland, Ohio, might be the forerunner of driver-training schools in other cities.

Operated by Cuyahoga Community College, the school offers an eight-week course that has been developed in conjunction with trucking industry driver-training specialists. The advisory committee of representatives from motor carrier companies and from equipment manufacturers maintains close contact with the school administrator and faculty to ensure that the course is kept up-to-date and that the graduates are fully trained to take responsible jobs as over-the-road and city pickup and delivery men, qualified to operate all types of current equipment.

A unique feature of the school is that each driver trainee has completed 3,000 miles of road experience in a truck before graduation!

That means the graduates of the Cuyahoga Community College course are not only classroom-trained, but have had practical driving experience in hauling loaded and unloaded equipment.

A high percentage of the enrollment of Cuyahoga Community College Driver Training School is black, and few have dropped out or failed the course. Because of its close connection with the trucking industry, the school has also had a good record in placing its graduates in jobs.

Tuition for the school is $500 for residents of the county, $550 for residents elsewhere in Ohio, and $600 for out-of-state students.

Students who apply for enrollment must pay their own tuition, or obtain funds through Vocational Rehabilitation, veterans' training benefits, or, in some cases, a grant from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that is given to help support the school. The school operates on a budget of more than $300,000, and has more than $222,000 worth of vehicles and training equipment.

Selection Methods Employers Use

Employers who are keenly interested in obtaining safe and reliable drivers have devised varying methods of selection. Some truck companies have formal testing and training programs; others hire on the basis of personal interviews and have a training program including a probation or break-in period during which the new employee observes and works with an experienced driver.

Men applying for jobs as over-the-road drivers are required to pass a physical examination, which is usually paid for by the employer. Firms also give written traffic and driving knowledge tests, and some employers give tests to measure such factors as sharpness in field of vision, reaction time, ability to judge speed, and emotional stability.

The final step in choosing drivers is the road test. It is the important period when the driver applicant must demonstrate his ability to handle, under a variety of driving conditions, a vehicle of the type and size he would normally be operating in regular service if employed. Some states insist on such a test before licensing a driver to operate a tractor-trailer combination.

Company Training Programs

More and more trucking companies in addition to giving drivers a brief indoctrination course covering company policy and the preparation of the various forms that will be used on the job also have regular formal training programs with an instructor, a driver-trainer, or an experienced driver.

Much like the airline pilots who have a "check pilot" go along with them on some flights, trucking companies also have a special driver accompany new drivers to observe his driving techniques. A truck driver working for a common carrier trucking company usually starts on what is called the "extra board" in which he bids for the regular runs on the basis of seniority as vacancies occur. The extra board is a list of men who are assigned in rotation and who substitute for regular drivers or who make extra trips when necessary. Over-the-road drivers who work for private carriers are most likely to begin right away with regular assigned runs.

The requirements for local truck drivers vary a good deal, de-pending on the type of equipment to be operated and the nature of the employer's business. As a rule, applicants for local driving must also be 21 years of age or older, although this is not always followed. The school requirements and the physical requirements are pretty much the same in local driving as they are in over-the-road driving, with the exception that these requirements are not insisted upon by the Department of Transportation if the driver is not going to be involved in interstate commerce. However, if the company for which the local driver is going to work is also engaged in interstate commerce, then the local drivers must also meet the DOT Interstate Commerce requirements even though they will be driving only locally.

Experience gained while driving in the armed forces is also important to a young man who wishes to become a truck driver. Employers will certainly give this high consideration.

What Employers Look for in Applicants

Since driving a truck, whether in local city driving or over-the- road on long-distance driving, is a responsible job, employers look for reliability, maturity, and good judgment in applicants. Responsibility is very important because the truck driver is often entrusted with a truck that is worth $20,000, $35,000, or more, and the cargo inside the truck may be worth more than $100,000. It is easy to see then why employers look for truck drivers upon whom they can depend. The driver has a serious responsibility when he has equipment of such high value in his hands, and containing cargo of even higher value.

Continuous Training and Incentive Programs

In addition to the requirements for over-the-road and local drivers, many companies have continuous training programs to improve the skills and techniques of the drivers.

Some are various types of safety-award programs in which the driver receives incentive points or bonuses or savings stamps for being accident-free for a certain period of time. Other companies have a competition in which they elect a Driver of the Month and a Driver of the Year. That driver, in turn, is sometimes entered in the state association competition and has a chance to become National Truck Driver of the Year, which is the highest honor to which any truck driver can aspire.

A good many companies sponsor company truck "rodeos" in which drivers must put their vehicles through a difficult skill- driving course. In addition, the driver must be accident-free for one year, and also undergo oral and written examinations as well as a test on vehicle defects. Those drivers then compete in a statewide truck rodeo, and the winners in four or five major categories are allowed to represent their state in the "World Series of Truck Driving"--the National Truck Rodeo, sponsored by the American Trucking Associations. The winner of the National Truck Rodeo not only receives handsome trophies and nationwide publicity, but more practically receives an additional sum of money each month added to his paycheck!

Possibilities for Advancement

Most truck drivers like their job so much they are content to remain behind the wheel of a rig, but for men who want to move higher and higher on the job ladder a number of exciting possibilities exist.

The steps upward a truck driver may take are from driver to driver-trainer, to driver supervisor, to safety supervisor, to safety director--or some may prefer to go into dispatching and from that into various phases of terminal operations.
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