Trucking

5 Simple Steps: How to Become a Truck Driver & More Tips

CloudTrucks Team

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Have you ever dreamed of a career on the open road? The freedom of a simple life, just you and your truck. Maybe you’re experiencing burnout and looking for a career change, or perhaps you're looking to launch your first career. Folks from all walks of life have made the switch to the rewarding and enjoyable career of truck driving. If you’re interested in joining their ranks as a truck driver, read on to learn how to make the change and become a truck driver.

Is It Hard To Become a Truck Driver?

Becoming a truck driver is surprisingly easy with low entry requirements. Furthermore, once you’ve been trained, there’s little difficulty finding a truck driving job with no experience due to an ongoing shortage of drivers creating a high demand for qualified individuals.

With these simple requirements and many opportunities to find a job in the field, there are many truck driver benefits.

How to Become a Truck Driver

Step 1 - Review the Basic Eligibility Requirements

Before you begin the process of becoming a truck driver, get an overview of what it will entail. In order to receive your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), you will need to meet these requirements:

  • Have a valid regular driver’s license
  • Be at least 21 years old (though drivers can be between 18 and 21 years old in certain cases)
  • Possess a social security number
  • Pass background checks and screens
  • Keep a good driving record according to your state’s requirements
  • Possess a high school diploma or GED

The specific requirements will vary by state, so make sure to check what your state requires for you to get your CDL.

Step 2 - Meet the Basic Qualifications

Be at least 21 years old (or 18 in some cases)

Drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 can obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). However, they are restricted to transporting freight within the state where they received their CDL. Drivers must be age 21 or older to operate in interstate commerce and transport loads across state lines. 

Pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) approved medical physical

You must provide proof of your DOT physical using a medical examiner’s card or medical examiner’s waiver before you’re permitted to take the CDL tests. 

Pass your state’s non-commercial driver’s license

Before you can earn your commercial driver’s license (CDL), you need to have a regular driver’s license first. Fees for obtaining a driver’s license in the US range from $20 to $90. Note: in some cases, you may be able to start driving commercially and gain experience with your regular driver’s license by driving delivery trucks. 

Earn a high school diploma or GED

Many trucking companies expect their employees to have at least a high school diploma or GED credential. If you do not have a high school diploma, you can earn a GED. Generally, it takes around 3-4 months on average and costs $80 to $160 depending on your state.

Step 3 - Obtain a Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

There are two approaches to obtaining your CDL:

1. Attend classes at a truck driving school or a local college or technical school if they have a truck driving program. 

CDL courses can be completed in as little as three weeks with a full-time Monday - Friday program or up to six months with part-time classes. The typical cost for these types of CDL programs range from $3,000 - $8,000

2. Sign on with a trucking company where you will receive your training for free in exchange for working for them for a predetermined amount of time. 

Most of the largest fleets (trucking companies) in the U.S. actively recruit individuals with no previous experience and offer paid training programs. Some companies have better pay packages and contract terms than others, so it pays to compare them for the best deal for you. The best large carriers to start with include Prime Inc., Swift, Werner, and Schneider. 

Look for employment contract terms limited to one year in exchange for your training and pay at least 40 cents per mile after you obtain your CDL.

Driver Perspective

“Study. There are lots of websites that have practice tests whose questions come directly from the questions the DMV has. It was a huge help when I went for my permit before starting school.”

Michael Kasanda, 3 years of experience

Step 4 - Apply For Employment

If you obtained your CDL through a company training program, you will have a job as soon as you finish your training. However, if you attended a truck driving school, you’ll need to start applying for employment. Most companies offer sign-on bonuses and other perks, so it pays to shop around. Because of the persistent driver shortage and high demand for drivers, it is common to receive multiple job offers. 

To start applying browse job boards such as monster.com or indeed.com. You can also check these sites dedicated to trucking jobs:

You can also use a Google search for truck driving jobs. Search engines aggregate information from many sources so you can quickly locate new sources and listings. Search engines are the quickest way to find quality jobs with the top trucking companies.

Step 5 - Start Driving!

Once you have earned your CDL and found a trucking job, you’ll be able to get on the road and complete the process of becoming a truck driver. When you are just beginning your career, gaining experience is one of the most important things you can do. More experience will open up more opportunities down the line. It also doesn’t hurt to follow tried and true tips for new truck drivers passed down by more experienced drivers.

How Much Can Truck Drivers Make?

A truck driver’s earnings are dependent on whether an individual works as a fleet driver for a trucking company or as an owner-operator. 

Fleet Driver (Company)

The national average salary for a fleet driver is $42,274. Fleet drivers are usually paid by the mile, but other payroll structures exist, including a percentage of the line haul revenue (pay per load), hourly and salaried. As employees, fleet drivers enjoy employment benefits, and many companies offer various bonus payment programs for productivity, safety, recruiting, etc.

Fleet drivers are typically “forced dispatched,” which means they have no say in where they go or what they haul. A fleet driver doesn’t have to worry about business operations. They simply run the loads assigned to them and collect their paycheck every week. The trucking company covers operating expenses such as equipment payments, maintenance, and fees associated with regulatory compliance. The trucking company also takes care of finding loads, negotiating rates, and accounting.

“A fleet driver doesn’t have to worry about business operations. They simply run the loads assigned to them and collect their paycheck every week.”

Owner-Operator

Trucking salaries can pay moderately high, as the national average salary for an owner-operator is $160,000 while owner-operators partnering with CloudTrucks earn an average of $17,000 per month. Owner-operators are not subjected to salary caps and pay grades because they operate their own trucking company. As business owners, they are responsible for all their expenses (operating expenses, regulatory compliance, and healthcare).

Owner-operators are responsible for finding loads, negotiating rates, and managing their business. Because of the additional responsibilities and expenses involved with becoming an owner-operator, it’s usually not recommended for inexperienced drivers.

Bonus - Join CloudTrucks

Once you’ve obtained your CDL and have a few years of experience under your belt (2.5 years to be exact), you are eligible to drive for CloudTrucks. CloudTrucks empowers independent truck drivers by giving them the back-office support of a large carrier and the freedom of an owner-operator to browse our loads and choose the ones they want. 

CloudTrucks gives you the tools and support you need to take your career to the next level with more control and unlimited earning potential all without obtaining an MC Authority through our Virtual Carrier program. Drivers who wish to maintain their own MC Authorities can do so while still enjoying the perks of working with CloudTrucks through our Flex program. Enjoy instant payments after each delivered load with our CT Cash card

To learn more, head over to our Getting Started page.

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