Posted October 6, 2022

Rookie Driver Mistakes to Avoid

By Sarah Rodriguez

Being a truck driver is a challenging job, and when you’re first starting out, there are many things you may not be aware of that only come with years of experience. You learn as you go, just as with any profession, but there are certain mistakes that are common among new truck drivers that are entirely avoidable. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth of 4% through 2031 among heavy and tractor-trailer truck driving careers. As a result, there will be plenty of new truck drivers entering the roadways, unaware of certain challenges that veteran drivers had to learn the hard way. In order to make an already demanding job a little less challenging, it’s important to consider these common mistakes made by new truck drivers so that you can avoid them. Below are some tips for new drivers to help you do just that.

Take Your Time Getting to Know the Road

Earning your CDL certification is only the beginning in getting accustomed to driving a truck. Maneuvering a large truck is very different from driving a passenger car, and there are certain things you’ll experience on the road that you may not be prepared for or that your training may not have covered. When you’re starting out, it is important to spend some time getting comfortable in your truck and making sure you feel comfortable driving through all types of conditions and situations such as road work, heavy rain or highly congested traffic. Pay attention to road signs at all times, including the reduced speed limits set in place for trucks and any detour signs. Expect that your route may not always go exactly to plan due to traffic, detours or an occasional wrong turn. It’s important to communicate with your dispatcher when things do go wrong so that you don’t get too far behind schedule, although sometimes that may happen due to factors outside of your control. Veteran truck drivers have seen all types of situations on the road that they had not considered before they entered the industry, and are still encountering new ones every day. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you earned your CDL license, you know everything about driving a truck. It can be a dangerous career and it is crucial that you expect the unexpected and are alert at all times on the road.

Set Realistic Expectations

Life on the road can be very challenging mentally and physically. You may be away from your family for extended periods of time and it may be difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle as a trucker. When you’re first getting into the industry, it’s important to set realistic expectations with yourself about what life will be like on the road. While you may be excited to start a new career in a lucrative industry, just remember that you will face challenges and you need to be your own biggest advocate. Making work-life balance a priority is key, especially when job searching. Look for companies who provide adequate home time and who value work-life balance as much as you do. While you’re on the road, it may be difficult to eat healthy foods and to get enough exercise. There are certain ways you can prepare for this challenge in order to lead the healthiest lifestyle you can as a truck driver, but it begins with just being aware that it will be a struggle, and finding proactive ways to address it. Even with these challenges and more, most veteran truck drivers think that the pros of the job outweigh the cons, and find ways to combat the difficulties they face on the road.

Establish Productive and Positive Relationships

Another key factor to look for when job searching is the quality of management at a company. Even though you’ll be out on the road likely by yourself for most of the time, it’s crucial to work for a company with professional management and a positive work culture. Finding a position with a company whose values align with your own will better set you up for success in the future. During the interview process, make sure you ask plenty of questions about the culture of the company and if possible, speak with the team members you will be directly working with, including managers and dispatchers. Establishing positive relationships with your coworkers and management teams will allow your routes to go smoother, and allow for productive conversations when something goes wrong. Some “green flags” to look for in a potential employer include high professionalism and organization, friendly and approachable management that cares about their employees, and clear and concise communication from the get go. Driving for a company with a positive management culture can prevent unnecessary miscommunications and frustrations while you are on the road.

Know Your Worth

When starting your job search, it’s very important to do your research and know how much truck drivers typically make in your area with your qualifications. Consider other factors than salary as well, such as benefits, any unique perks that the company offers, and other compensation such as bonuses and merit increases. A lot of rookie drivers may accept one of the first job offers they’re given, not knowing how much they could potentially be making and therefore losing out. Consider your priorities and what is truly important to you, whether that be work-life balance and time off, or the type of freight you’ll be hauling. Once you have determined what you value the most, apply with companies whose values align with your own. It can also be beneficial to talk to a more experienced truck driver to see what their experience has been like in the industry and if they have any suggestions for good companies to work for. Truck driving is an extremely valuable profession, and it’s important that you recognize your own worth and know what you should and shouldn’t accept in an employer.

Truck driving, while it can be extremely rewarding and lucrative, is a demanding career. While you can’t anticipate every challenge or obstacle you’ll face as a professional truck driver, following these tips can help you to avoid some of the most common mistakes that new drivers make when first starting out. As you advance in your career, you’ll learn invaluable lessons and skills that only come with experience, and truly can’t be taught. By starting out with realistic expectations for the job, seeking out companies that value you and have a positive culture and management style, and spending adequate time getting comfortable on the road and in your truck, you can set yourself up for success and help to alleviate some of the growing pains you may face otherwise. There are plenty of opportunities for new truck drivers as the industry continues to grow, so if you have decided that the profession is for you, there is no better time to get started.