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Nearly all goods are transported by truck during some of their journey from producers to consumers. Goods may also be shipped between terminals or warehouses in different cities by train, ship, or plane. But truckdrivers usually make the initial pickup from factories, consolidate cargo at terminals for intercity shipment, and deliver goods from terminals to stores and homes.
Before leaving the terminal or warehouse, truckdrivers check their trucks for fuel and oil. They also inspect the trucks to make sure the brakes, windshield wipers, and lights are working and that a fire extinguisher, flares, and other safety equipment are aboard and in working order. Drivers adjust mirrors so that both sides of the truck are visible from the driver's seat, and make sure cargo has been loaded properly so it will not shift during the trip. Drivers report to the dispatcher any equipment that does not work or is missing, or cargo that is not loaded properly.
Once underway, drivers must be alert to prevent accidents. Because drivers of large tractor-trailers sit higher than cars, pickups, and vans, they can see farther down the road. They seek traffic lanes that allow them to move at a steady speed, and, when going downhill, they may increase speed slightly to gain momentum for a hill ahead.
Long-distance runs vary widely. On short "turnarounds," truckdrivers deliver a load to a nearby city, pick up another loaded trailer, and drive it back to their home base the same day. Other runs take an entire day, and drivers remain away from home overnight. On longer runs, drivers may haul loads from city to city for a week or more before returning home. Some companies use two drivers on very long runs. One drives while the other sleeps in a berth behind the cab. "Sleeper" runs may last for days, or even weeks, usually with the truck stopping only for fuel, food, loading, and unloading.
Some long-distance drivers who have regular runs transport freight to the same city on a regular basis. Because shippers request varying amounts of service to different cities every day, many drivers have unscheduled runs. Dispatchers tell these drivers when to report for work and where to haul the freight.
After long-distance truckdrivers reach their destination or complete their operating shift, they are required by the U.S. Department of Transportation to complete reports about the trip and the condition of the truck and to give a detailed report of any accident. In addition, drivers are subject to random alcohol and drug tests while on duty.
Long-distance truckdrivers spend most of their working time behind the wheel but may be required to unload their cargo. Drivers hauling specialty cargo often load or unload their trucks, since they may be the only one at the destination familiar with this procedure. Auto-transport drivers, for example, drive and position the cars on the trailers and head ramps and remove them at the final destination. When picking up or delivering furniture, drivers of long-distance moving vans hire local workers to help them load or unload.
When local truckdrivers receive assignments from the dispatcher to make deliveries, pickups, or both, they also get delivery forms. Before the drivers arrive for work, material handlers generally have loaded the trucks and arranged the items in order of delivery to minimize handling of the merchandise.
At the customer's place of business, local truckdrivers generally load or unload the merchandise. If there are heavy loads or many deliveries to make during the day, drivers may have helpers. Customers must sign receipts for goods and drivers may receive money for material delivered. At the end of the day, they turn in receipts, money, and records of deliveries made and report any mechanical problems their trucks may have.
The work of local truckdrivers varies, depending on the product they transport. Produce truckers usually pick up a loaded truck in the early morning and spend the rest of the day delivering produce to many different grocery stores. Lumber truckdrivers, on the other hand, make several trips from the lumber yard to one or more construction sites. Gasoline tank truckdrivers attach the hoses and operate the pumps on their trucks to transfer the gasoline to gas stations' storage tanks.
Some local truckdrivers have sales and customer relations responsibilities. These driverscalled "driver-sales workers" or "route drivers"are primarily responsible for delivering their firm's products, but they also represent the company. Their reaction to customer complaints and requests for special services can make the difference between a large order and losing a customer. Route drivers also may use their selling ability to increase sales and to gain additional customers.
The duties of driver-sales workers vary according to the industry in which they are employed, the policies of their particular company, and how strongly their sales responsibilities are emphasized. Most have wholesale routesthat is, they deliver to businesses and stores rather than homes. A few distribute various foods, or pick up and deliver dry-cleaning to households, but these retail routes are now rare.
Wholesale bakery driver-sales workers, for example, deliver and arrange bread, cakes, rolls, and other baked goods on display racks in grocery stores. Paying close attention to the items that are selling well and those just sitting on the shelves, they estimate the amount and variety of baked goods that will be sold. They may recommend changes in a store's order or may encourage the manager to stock new bakery products. From time to time, they try to get the business of new stores along their route.
Driver-sales workers employed by laundries that rent linens, towels, work clothes, and other items visit businesses regularly to replace soiled laundry.
Vending machine driver-sales workers service machines in factories, schools, and other buildings. They check items remaining in the machines, replace stock, and remove money deposited in the cash boxes. They also examine each vending machine to see that merchandise and change are dispensed properly, make minor repairs, and clean machines.
After completing their route, driver-sales workers order items for the next day which they think customers are likely to buy, based primarily on what products have been selling well, the weather, time of year, and any customer feedback.
Truckdriving has become less physically demanding because most trucks now have more comfortable seats, better ventilation, and improved cab designs. However, driving for many hours at a stretch, unloading cargo, and making many deliveries can be tiring, and driving in bad weather, heavy traffic, or mountains can be nerve racking. Local truckdrivers, unlike long-distance drivers, usually can return home in the evening. Some self-employed long distance truckdrivers who own as well as operate their trucks spend over 240 days a year away from home.
Local truckdrivers frequently work 48 hours or more a week. Many who handle food for chain grocery stores, produce markets, or bakeries drive at night or early in the morning. Although most drivers have a regular route, some have different routes each day. Many local truckdriversparticularly driver-sales workersload and unload their own trucks, which requires considerable lifting, carrying, and walking.
The U.S. Department of Transportation governs work hours and other matters of trucking companies engaged in interstate commerce. For example, a long-distance driver cannot be on duty for more than 60 hours in any 7-day period and cannot drive more than 10 hours following at least 8 consecutive hours off duty. Many drivers, particularly on long runs, work close to the maximum time permitted. Drivers on long runs may face boredom, loneliness, and fatigue. Although many drivers work during the day, travel at night and on holidays and weekends is frequently necessary in order to avoid traffic delays and deliver cargo on time.
Truckdrivers held 2,900,000 jobs in 1994. Jobs are concentrated in and around large cities. Some drivers are employed in almost all communities, however.
Trucking companies employed nearly one-third of all truckdrivers, and another one-third worked for companies engaged in wholesale or retail trade, such as auto parts stores, oil companies, lumber yards, or distributors of food and grocery products. The rest were scattered throughout the economy, including government agencies.
Fewer than 1 out of 10 truckdrivers are self-employed; of these, a significant number are owner-operators, who either operate independently, serving a variety of businesses, or lease their services and their trucks to a trucking company.
Qualifications and standards for truckdrivers are established by State and Federal regulations. States must meet Federal standards, and some States have more stringent regulations. All truckdrivers must have a driver's license issued by the State in which they live, and most employers require a good driving record. All drivers of trucks designed to carry at least 26,000 poundswhich includes most tractor-trailers as well as bigger straight trucksare required to obtain a special commercial driver's license (CDL) from the State in which they live; in many States a regular driver's license is sufficient for driving light trucks and vans. All truckdrivers who operate trucks that carry hazardous materials also must obtain a CDL.
To qualify for a commercial driver's license, applicants must pass a knowledge test and demonstrate that they can operate a commercial truck safely. A national data bank permanently records all driving violations incurred by persons who hold commercial licenses, so drivers whose commercial license is suspended or revoked in one State may not be issued a new one in another State. Trainees must be accompanied by a driver with a CDL until they get their own CDL. Information on how to apply for a commercial driver's license may be obtained from State motor vehicle administrations.
The U.S. Department of Transportation establishes minimum qualifications for truckdrivers who are engaged in interstate commerce. A driver must be at least 21 years old and pass a physical examination, which the employer usually pays for. Good hearing, 20/40 vision with or without glasses or corrective lenses, normal use of arms and legs (unless a waiver is obtained), and normal blood pressure are the main physical requirements. Persons with epilepsy or diabetes controlled by insulin are not permitted to be interstate truckdrivers, and drivers may not use any controlled substances unless prescribed by a licensed physician. In addition, drivers must take a written examination on the Motor Carrier Safety Regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Many trucking operations have higher standards than those described. Many firms require that drivers be at least 25 years old, be able to lift heavy objects, and have driven trucks for 3 to 5 years. Many prefer to hire high school graduates and require annual physical examinations. Federal regulations require employers to test their drivers for alcohol and drug use as a condition of employment, and require periodic random tests while on duty.
Since drivers often deal directly with the company's customers, they must get along well with people. For jobs as driver-sales workers, an ability to speak well and a neat appearance are particularly important, as are self-confidence, initiative, and tact. For all truckdriver jobs, employers also look for responsible, self-motivated individuals, since drivers work with little supervision.
Driver-training courses are a desirable method of preparing for truckdriving jobs and for obtaining a commercial driver's license. High school driver-training courses are an asset, and courses in automotive mechanics may help drivers make minor roadside repairs. Many private and public technical-vocational schools offer tractor-trailer driver training programs. Students learn to inspect the trucks and freight, to maneuver large vehicles on crowded streets and in highway traffic, and to comply with Federal, State, and local regulations. Some programs provide only a limited amount of actual driving experience, and completion of a program does not assure a job. Persons interested in attending one of these schools should check with local trucking companies to make sure the school's training is acceptable or should seek a school certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute of America as providing training that meets Federal Highway Administration guidelines for training tractor-trailer drivers.
Training given to new drivers by employers usually is informal and may consist only of a few hours of instruction from an experienced driver, sometimes on the new employee's own time. New drivers also may ride with and observe experienced drivers before being assigned their own runs. Additional training may be given if they are to drive a special type of truck or if they are handling hazardous materials. Some companies give 1 to 2 days of classroom instruction which covers general duties, the operation and loading of a truck, company policies, and the preparation of delivery forms and company records. Driver-sales workers also receive training on the various types of products they carry so they will be more effective sales workers and better able to handle customer requests.
Very few people enter truckdriving directly from school; most truckdrivers previously held jobs in other occupations. Driving experience in the Armed Forces can be an asset. In some instances, a person also may start as a truckdriver's helper, driving part of the day and helping to unload and load freight. When driving vacancies occur, senior helpers usually are promoted.
New drivers sometimes start on panel or other small "straight" trucks. As they gain experience and show good driving skills, they may advance to larger and heavier trucks, and finally to tractor-trailers.
Although most new truckdrivers are assigned immediately to regular driving jobs, some start as extra drivers, who substitute for regular drivers who are ill or on vacation. They receive a regular assignment when an opening occurs.
Advancement of truckdrivers is generally limited to driving runs that provide increased earnings or preferred schedules and working conditions. For the most part, a local truckdriver may advance to driving heavy or special types of trucks, or transfer to long-distance truckdriving. Working for companies that also employ long-distance drivers is the best way to advance to these positions. A few truckdrivers may advance to dispatcher, manager, or traffic workfor example, planning delivery schedules.
Some long-distance truckers purchase a truck and go into business for themselves. Although many of these owner-operators are successful, others fail to cover expenses and eventually lose their trucks. Owner-operators should have good business sense as well as truckdriving experience. Courses in accounting, business, and business arithmetic are helpful, and knowledge of truck mechanics can enable owner-operators to perform their own routine maintenance and minor repairs.
Opportunities should be favorable for persons who are interested in truckdriving. This occupation has among the largest number of job openings each year. Although thousands of openings will be created by growth in demand for drivers, the majority will occur as experienced drivers transfer to other fields of work or retire or leave the labor force for other reasons. Truckdriver jobs vary greatly in terms of earnings, weekly work hours, number of nights that must be spent "on the road," and in the quality of equipment operated. Because truckdriving does not require education beyond high school, competition is expected for jobs with the most attractive earnings and working conditions.
Employment of truckdrivers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005 as the economy grows and the amount of freight carried by trucks increases. However, increased integration of truck and railroad long-distance freight transportation should continue to slow somewhat the growth of truckdriver jobs. Trailers are expected increasingly to be carried between distant regions on trains, thus requiring truckdrivers only to deliver and pick them up at rail depots. Perishable goods should continue to be shipped long distance by truck.
Average growth of local and long-distance truckdriver employment should outweigh the slow growth in driver-sales worker jobs. The number of truckdrivers with sales responsibilities is expected to increase slowly because companies are increasingly splitting their responsibilities among other workers, shifting sales, ordering, and customer service tasks to sales and office staffs, and using regular truckdrivers to make deliveries to customers.
Job opportunities may vary from year to year because the amount of freight moved by trucks fluctuates with the economy. Many new truckdrivers are hired when the economy and the volume of freight are expanding, but fewer when these decline. During economic slowdowns, some truckdrivers are laid off and others have decreased earnings because of reduced hours or miles driven. Independent owner-operators are particularly vulnerable to slowdowns. Truckdrivers employed in industries such as wholesale food distribution, which is usually not affected much by recessions, are less likely to be laid off.
As a rule, local truckdrivers are paid by the hour and receive extra pay for working overtime, usually after 40 hours. Long-distance drivers are generally paid primarily by the mile, and their rate per mile can vary greatly from employer to employer; their earnings increase with mileage driven, seniority, and the size and type of truck. Most driver-sales workers receive a commission based on their sales in addition to an hourly wage.
In 1993, truckdrivers had average straight-time hourly earnings of $12.73. Depending on the size of the truck, average hourly earnings were as follows:
Medium trucks $14.87 Tractor-trailers 13.29 Heavy straight trucks 11.80 Light trucks 8.06Drivers employed by trucking companies had the highest earnings, averaging about $15.97 an hour in 1993. Truckdrivers in the Northeast and West had the highest earnings; those in the South had the lowest.
Most long-distance truckdrivers operate tractor-trailers, and their earnings vary widely, from as little as $20,000 to over $40,000 annually. Most self-employed truckdrivers are primarily engaged in long-distance hauling. After deducting their living expenses and the costs associated with operating their trucks, earnings of $20,000 to $25,000 a year are common.
Many truckdrivers are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Some truckdrivers employed by companies outside the trucking industry are members of unions that represent the plant workers of the companies for which they work.
Other driving occupations include ambulance driver, busdriver, chauffeur, and taxi driver.
Information on truckdriver employment opportunities is available from local trucking companies and local offices of the State employment service.
Information on career opportunities in truckdriving may be obtained from:
American Trucking Associations, Inc., 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314.
The Professional Truck Driver Institute of America, a nonprofit organization established by the trucking industry, manufacturers, and others, certifies truckdriver training programs that meet industry standards. A free list of certified tractor-trailer driver training programs may be obtained from:
Professional Truck Driver Institute of America, 8788 Elk Grove Blvd., Suite 20, Elk Grove, CA 95624.
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