Essential Truck Driver Skills to Master

Table of Contents

Truck driver skills is an important topic for anyone working in the industry or anyone looking to become a truck driver. In this article we’ll take a look at the skill set acquired and utilized by successful drivers. Just by reading this article, you’re on your way to developing these skills because seeking out information is the foundation for a successful career.

Learning all you can, studying truck driver safety tips, the application of technology in the industry, and other aspects of the business will make you a more knowledgeable and better equipped driver. Keep in mind though that developing and honing skills and knowledge in any field, truck driving included, is a marathon, not a sprint. As you practice these skills and apply your knowledge in your day to day work, you will be refining your abilities, and growing your career every step along the way.

Truck Driver Skills


The ability to convey information in a prompt and clear manner is a core skill that will benefit you in all aspects of your career. For example, it’s important to be able to relay information to dispatchers and receivers about timelines and delays. From a safety perspective, it’s also important to communicate with shippers and receivers at the docks, to ensure their safety as well as yours. And while on the road, with a CB radio, you’ll be able to communicate road hazards, accidents, and other safety critical information to your fellow drivers.

Likewise, having the CB radio on, and set to channel 19 will ensure that you are notified of the aforementioned situations, miles ahead of time, giving you extra time to plan, and react. Furthermore, developing relationships at all levels of your job, with your company contacts like your dispatcher, customers, and other drivers is fundamental to your success. And don’t forget, being able to speak and write in a way that conveys the message tactfully without disturbing relationships is paramount.


A successful truck driving career demands organization. You won’t make it very far in this field without it. Everyday on the job is a complex balancing act held together through strict organizational ability. Everything from keeping your logbook up to date, to keeping track of all receipts and expenses, and maintaining regulatory paperwork such as IFTA, insurance, and other permits, in the event an officer or weigh station personnel need access to these items.  


All the motivation in the world is still just half the battle. It will get you to your next obstacle in work or life, but it is discipline that will take you over, around, or through that obstacle, no matter what it may be. We are all human, and no one can remain 100% motivated all the time, it’s not in our nature.

There are days where we don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to go anywhere, or would rather be doing something different. But, when you're on the job, you don’t have the luxury to become sidetracked. Your safety, the safety of others, the objective of getting your load delivered on time, all demand that you be there with your A game on, even when you don’t feel like it. And that’s where discipline comes in.

Furthermore, remaining disciplined in managing your hours, keeping cool under pressure, conducting preventative truck maintenance, and keeping your truck and yourself within regulatory guidelines is the difference between success and failure as a truck driver.


Truck driving is a huge responsibility. Other individuals that you share the road with count on you to operate in compliance with safety regulations, and to operate your vehicle in a safe and trustworthy manner. Your employer and your customers trust you to be responsible with their freight, keeping the cargo in good condition while enroute, and picking it up and delivering it on time, each and every time. Trucking, by its very nature, is a high stakes industry. Drivers who violate the trust of others are pretty much done career-wise because it’s practically impossible to earn trust back once you’ve lost it in the trucking industry. So guard that trust others have in you like it's the most precious thing in the world. 

Navigation Skills

This should go without saying but you need to be able to get from point A to point B. These days, we have GPS to guide us to our destinations. However, as advanced as that technology is, it’s never 100% correct. Especially when it comes to trucks. You’re operating a vehicle that weighs 80,000 pounds and is 72 feet long. It’s not always going to be able to take a route the GPS suggests, even if it’s a trucking GPS. Reading a map, and keeping an up to date road atlas for trucking is essential. What’s even more important than that is the ability to read a map, and when needed follow directions that you receive in writing or by phone. Study each route you plan to take until you know it like the back of your hand. It’s the best way to avoid unnecessary and expensive navigational errors such as driving down a restricted route, collapsing a bridge you’re too heavy for, or getting stuck under an overpass or bridge that’s too short for your truck to go under. 

Proper Driving Skills

Your CDL is the key to your career. Without you’ve got nothing. It's your CDL. Don’t let anyone bully you into unsafe driving conditions, pushing past your driving hours, or committing a road rage incident. At the end of the day, if something happens because of any of the above mentioned situations, it’s your license on the line.


Hurry up and wait is the name of the game in trucking. You’re going to encounter traffic jams, aggressive drivers, long weigh station and fuel lines, waiting for a shower to open, waiting to load, waiting to unload, waiting to be assigned a load,  are all things you will have to deal with as a truck driver. Learn to become comfortable with these delays, they are a part of trucking that any veteran driver will be more than happy to talk about. When it comes to delays, use the mantra, “it is what it is.” Many drivers use that mantra when it comes to delays. Learning to let these situations, over which you have no control,  flow off you like water off a duck's back. Find your zen state and don’t let these things get to you. You will have a much less stressful and thus more enjoyable career once you’ve mastered patience. 

Basic Mechanical Knowledge

No matter who you drive for, drivers are expected to handle the most basic mechanical things such as putting chains on your tires, hitching a trailer, backing up, replacing fluids and conducting pre-trip inspections. Having to repeatedly visit a mechanic to have these things done will cause delays and make your maintenance costs skyrocket out of control. You can avoid all that by understanding and taking care of basic maintenance.

How to Back Up a Semi Truck

Although drivers spend 99% of their careers driving forward, driving in reverse is the part of the job that can make or break you when it comes to skill. It’s an essential skill that at first can be intimidating, and difficult, yet mastering the skill can come quickly with extra practice. If you’re struggling with backing, bookmark this page, and commit these steps to memory. Then, practice.

"The best place and time of day to practice backing is during the middle of the day, at a truck stop. Usually at that time of day, the back of the lot (often referred to as the back 40) farthest from the store is empty and has little traffic. "

Purchase a couple of orange cones and use them to mark the slot you’re backing into. In order to have plenty of room for making mistakes without causing damage to other driver’s equipment, select a spot as far from other parked trucks as possible. Then follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Observe the hole (the area you’ve marked with your cones). Drive past the spot you want to back into while angling the nose of your tractor to the 3 o’clock position. Stop moving forward when your drive tires are just past the spot. 
  • Step 2: Pull ahead at the 3 o’clock position until your trailer is in line with your tractor and stop. 
  • Step 3: Get out and look to develop the habit of always getting out to look. Make sure the back of your trailer is set correctly to drive it into the hole. A trick here is to think of it as pushing the trailer into the hole from the front, using the tractor. Once you've got the concept, it makes backing a lot easier. 
  • Step 4: Honk twice to signal that you are beginning to reverse. Cut your wheels ever so slightly to the opposite direction you are facing. Since we’re doing this as a driver side backing example, cut your wheel to the right gently, and begin to reverse slowly, guiding the tail of the trailer into the hole. 
  • Step 5: Continue to reverse slowly. The idea at this point is to bring your trailer into alignment with the hole. A few inches at a time continue to incrementally cut your wheels to the right until the trailer is within 20 - 30 degrees of the hole. Then cut the wheel to the left to bring the tractor back under the trailer. You’ll know you have the maneuver right when after the trailer comes back under the trailer, you are in a straight line and ready to reverse straight back. 

If you missed the hole: If you’ve missed the hole, and over or under-steered in either direction, it may be necessary to perform a pull-up. When pulling up to reposition you have to think a little counter-intuitively about which way to turn the wheel. If you’re backing in from the driver side, the inclination is to cut the wheels hard to the left. But that will only throw you further out of alignment. It is better to pull up in the direction you’re currently facing, or cut your wheels to the right slightly. 

Keep in mind, this is a basic guide to backing in from the driver side position, aka the sight side position. It is the easiest setup to perform a backing procedure. Blind-side backing (from the passenger side) isn’t recommended until you’ve mastered sight side backing first and have developed a good feel for how the truck and trailer move. When you’re not able to practice and are trying to find a spot for the night, or get into a dock, and are having trouble, there’s almost always at least one or two drivers around who will be happy to hop out of their truck and give you hand spotting for you and helping you guide the tractor in. Every driver was a rookie once, and had trouble backing, and most drivers remember how difficult it was.

The more you grow your skills, the more confident you will become and the more enjoyment you’ll find as a truck driver. It’s a big country out there with plenty to see and do. Stay safe out there and remember, when it comes to developing truck driving skills, practice makes perfect. 

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