Posted June 9, 2023

What You Need to Become a Truck Driver

By Gigi Tino

Trucking is a lucrative career that has been in increasingly high demand for the past several years with no signs of slowing down. There’s a lot more to getting started than just applying to open positions. Trucking is a highly-regulated profession, and you’ll need to do your research and plenty of preparation before you can get your first job. There are extensive and strict criteria required on a federal level and by industry companies for truck drivers. If you're eager to start your trucking career, make sure you’re well-researched and a good candidate before you hit the road.

Take these criteria under consideration before you officially start your journey to the driver’s seat!

Driving and Criminal Records: A clean driving record is important both for getting a CDL and your employability. Every state will take a look at a 10-year driving record. They will assess and evaluate all incidents from tickets, to DUIs, and traffic accidents. Companies will have varying requirements for safety records, but they will all take your record into serious consideration. Additionally, it's essential to periodically check your driving record for accuracy and address any inaccuracies or errors promptly. You will also undergo a background check to obtain your CDL and by potential employers. A criminal offense could disqualify you from obtaining your CDL or from employment.

Medical History: The DOT, through the FMCSA division, requires every commercial driver to pass a medical exam. The DOT physical evaluates various aspects of your health, including vision, hearing, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, respiratory function, diabetes management, drug testing, and overall physical fitness. You must disclose any existing medical conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory disorders, epilepsy, and sleep apnea, as well as any medications you are taking. Some medical conditions may require additional documentation from a treating physician to demonstrate that the condition is well-managed and does not compromise your ability to drive safely. Make sure your health record and medications meet physical requirements.

Proper Documentation: You will need the proper paperwork when getting your CDL or obtaining your first trucking job. This can include your birth certificate, social security number, driver’s license, proof of residency, and diplomas. Keep these necessary records properly filed so you have them anytime they are needed.

Employment History: You don’t need to have experience specifically in the transportation industry to become a truck driver. However, your employment history does reflect your work ethic to potential employers. Job-hopping or bad references from previous employers can impact your chance at a trucking job, which requires reliability and dedication. If you are just entering the workforce, a high school diploma or GED as well as training programs can also be considered valuable alongside a solid history of employment.

Trucking School: Specialized education is not necessarily mandatory for a trucking career, but it can be a valuable step towards getting ahead. You can gain valuable knowledge and hands-on experience while attending a reputable truck driving school. These schools offer training programs that help you understand the fundamentals of truck driving and prepare you for the CDL exam. It is important to do your research to find the right program for you that also has a respected reputation. If you’re interested in a trucking school, you can explore ones in your area here.

Obtain a CDL: As previously stated, you do not need to attend a school to get your CDL. A CDL is a Commercial Driver’s License regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that is necessary for all commercial drivers. A CDL is obtained through your state of residency, so check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for specific guidelines. Obtaining a CDL requires passing a skills test, and in some cases a written test. You will need to get a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) that authorizes you to drive on public roads for practice with a qualified driver alongside. Documentation such as your driving record, medical history, identity verification and more will be important here. You also must complete entry-level driver training through a registered provider before you can take the CDL exam. There are fees, a lot of documentation, lengthy training, and extensive preparation for getting your CDL!

By understanding these key aspects, you'll be better prepared for your first truck driver job and set yourself up for success in the industry. Remember, getting your first truck driver job may take time and effort. Be persistent, network with other drivers, and consider joining industry organizations to expand your opportunities. With dedication and a focus on safety and professionalism, you can embark on a successful truck driving career.