Now that you have learned the truck driving basics, it is time to test your skills on the open road. Are you ready to start your truck driving career on the right track? Take note on what to expect when trucking your first year. You’ll be able to avoid the pit stops and blowouts that often leave truckers in the lurch by preparing for them in advance. Here are 7 things that all new truckers experience during their first year in the trucking industry.
Starting at the Back of the Pack
When you first start out in any job you are going to have to climb the corporate ladder. This also applies with truck driving jobs, mainly due to experience, miles safely driven, networking skills, and seniority for company drivers. For truck drivers who recently received their CDL and are starting out with a truck driving company, you will be expected to drive for a set rate and set number of hours.
- A word of advice for any new driver just starting with a company: get everything in writing. If a company stipulates that you will be home every weekend, earning a minimum of, say, 28 cents per mile, and receiving certain health insurance benefits, request that this information be noted in a typed and signed document. In addition to showing your professionalism and attention to detail, you are also ensuring your sustainability as a trucker.
After the first year, you will gain the experience and industry skills needed to make more independent decisions. You may decide that driving as a team driver or for a different company is in your best interest. Alternatively you may choose to lease or purchase your own truck and trailer in order to start your own trucking company or to drive independently. Consider this first year your training wheels’ year, when you learn how to get the best paying loads and how to navigate the roads.
Truck Driver’s Etiquette
Some things you cannot truly learn in truck driving training, and this includes truck driver culture. The social atmosphere of truckers includes things like CB handles and truck driving songs. However, it includes far more, such as the behavior that is expected among truckers when at truck stops and rest areas. Good trucker etiquette includes:
- Speak with respect to other truckers on the CB radio
- Watch where you park your reefer trailer at rest areas or truck stops; no one likes to sleep with the reefer unit, constantly kicking on and off, next to their cab
- Do not cut off drivers when driving, and give other drivers plenty of space when they are passing you on roadways
- When a trucker is passing you in the left-side lane, slow down slightly to let them get around you, as many new trucks and those for trucking companies have governors; this helps you to avoid traffic congestion and the turtle race syndrome of truckers
- When you are in the left lane and passing vehicles, speed up slightly, even a half a MPH will help, in order to clear the lane
- If you see a trucker broken down at a truck stop or rest area, offer to help giving consideration to your own working schedule
- Never leave your garbage in a parking lot
- Do not leave your rig parked on a scale, ever
- Pump your fuel, then move your rig out of the way while you go in to get a fuel ticket; leaving the pump engaged is a good way to overflow your tank as a costly and messy mistake, and no one likes to wait for a trucker to take a shower or use the toilet while their rig blocks the fuel pumps
Hours on the Road
Long gone are the days when there were few limits to the amount of hours a trucker could go per day. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers of commercial motor vehicles are limited to a set number of hours of service, if they meet any of the following stipulations:
- Rig or gross vehicle weight is greater than 10,000 pounds
- Driving a vehicle used to transport 9* or more people for compensation *includes driver
- Driving a vehicle to transport 16* or more people not for compensation *includes driver
- Transporting hazardous material that requires placards to indicate the quantity of the items
In these instances the driver must meet the federally mandated hours of service, such as:
- The 11-hour driving limit for property carriers—drive for 11 hours following by 10 hours, consecutively, off the road
- The 10-hour driving limit for passenger carriers—drive for 10 hours following 8 hours, consecutively, off the road
You will need to understand which hours of service guidelines apply to your route, so that you are in compliance with the DOT when you go into weigh stations and in case you are pulled over while driving. Additionally, you should understand each of the hours of service rules as your hour limit may differ depending on your route and load. During your first year, you may get to experience several of the hours of service rules depending whether you drive for a company on a set route, or are driving for a small scale trucking business.
Understanding Trucking Routes
One of the biggest learning curves for any new truck driver in the first year of trucking is the routes to take. Thanks to GPS truckers now can benefit from technology in order to get them from Point A to Point B. However, maps in paper form and those on the Internet are also great for locating routes that have not been updated to GPS systems. Keep in mind that some roads will not be accessible to trucks over 10,000 pounds. Before every trip you will need to verify your route. Start by asking a trusted trucker who has made the trip you are about to take. They can give you first-hand knowledge about what roads are best to take pending traffic and road construction. Other tips for getting the feel of routes include:
- Use weather apps or news reports to find out what the weather conditions are forecasted for along your route and for your destination
- Write out the directions for your trip on a sheet of paper, or print them off using a computer, so you can have a list of the roads on hand in case your GPS or cell phone fails you, i.e. battery dies or unit breaks down
- Listen to your CB radio to hear about traffic issues, road blocks or construction that is in your direction so you can plan for a detour
- Speaking of detours, always have a backup plan for your route
With some preplanning you will feel more confident when out on the open road, even when you are in country or a city where you have never been before. After the first year most likely you will come to recall several routes that you have run multiple times, which will help boost your confidence and sense of direction. Soon enough you will be offering advice and route directions to other newbie truck drivers.
Learning How to Load a Truck
One of the things you will not learn when learning truck driving essentials is about how to handle different loads. Loading is a skill you will have to master on the open road. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, has a lot to say about loading a truck because of the dangers involved. According to OSHA, “Truck or rail tank car loading or the unloading of flammable/combustible liquids is one of the most hazardous operations likely to be undertaken at any manufacturing or storage facility.” Several issues come to play when loading truck trailers:
- Loading using suspension-style highway trailers increase the risk of injuries because of damaged trailers that cannot withstand the weight of the forklifts or other powered equipment used to lift the load
- Forklifts are flipped over or fall off of a loading dock
While you will constantly experience new load types throughout your first year as a trucker, you can make sure to stay safe and secure. Get trained via OSHA on how to operate a forklift aka Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training. Also, be alert and attentive when loading and unloading your haul in order to prevent unnecessary accidents to you and those around you. Through experience you will become familiar with how to load and unload different load types.
Long Hours in the Hot Seat
A major lifestyle change accompanies the trucking industry. After all, you are going to be sitting in a sedentary position for hours on end with few opportunities to get up and walk around. Forbes released an article, along with several other media sources, that shows those who sit all day during their jobs are more likely to die an early death due to inactivity. The human body isn’t meant to sit. If you are used to getting up and moving during your work day, the first year on the road will definitely be a huge adjustment. Here are some ways you can increase your health while keeping your trucking job:
- Take a bicycle along with you to go on short bike rides during your breaks
- Go on short walks whenever and wherever possible when stopping for fuel, at loading docks, at weigh stations and for breaks
- Flex each of your muscles when driving starting with the top of your head and moving down to your toes
- Shift in your seat every few minutes to get some blood flow going
- Do stretching exercises while waiting at red lights or in traffic jams
Families and Relationships
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a trucker is the lack of physical closeness you will have with those who mean the most to you. Unless you are driving teams with your partner or spouse, or driving LTL, you will most likely spend many nights away from home while working. If you have a spouse or children at home, you need to find ways to stay connected with them to ensure healthy relationships. Check out these ideas for staying in touch with loved ones:
- Use Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts to see and talk to your loved ones while on the road; you can do this with a smartphone, tablet or computer and you can access Wi-Fi from truck stops and rest areas
- Use apps made for couples, such as Feel Me, Duet, Pair or Avocado, that help you keep the romance alive
- If you are on a different schedule work and school wise than your children, then make short videos that you can send via text message or email for them to open when they have time and vice versa
- Call your home and speak to everyone there at least once a day, but prepare to talk about the boring stuff, like what you ate for dinner and the weather forecast—it is the connections that matter here not necessarily the quality of the conversation
- Take lots of photos of the places you see when on the open road so you can share them with loved ones, or print them off when you are home to make a scrapbook for sharing as a family project
Be open and honest with your loved ones about your trucking life, just as you would if you were at home. This helps your family and friends see what kind of days you are experiencing, even on bad days, so that they can be prepared to boost your morale if you are feeling depressed. Depression and loneliness often strikes truckers, and is especially difficult during the first year. So make the most of your efforts to stay connected with those who keep you grounded back home. They will be there to support you emotionally and mentally when you are having a hard time being away for work.