Heavy Truck Driver  What They Do

Just the Facts

Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers Career Video

Insider Info

dotTruckers are the link between point A and point B. Day and night, they transport anything and everything that we need to go about our daily lives: the food we eat, the furniture we sit on, the books we read and the cars we drive.

Due to a truck's ability to link with rail, sea or air transportation facilities, truck drivers usually make the initial pickup from factories, consolidate cargo at terminals for inter-city shipment and deliver goods from terminals to stores and homes. Indeed, trucks move nearly all goods at some point in their journey from producers to consumers.

dotTruckers are responsible for all aspects of their jobs, including the condition of their equipment, loading and unloading, and the safety and security of cargo. They obtain special permits and other documents required to transport cargo on international routes and record information, such as cargo status, distance traveled and fuel consumption, in a log book or on an onboard computer.

They may drive as part of a team or as a convoy, relay information to a central dispatcher or transport hazardous products or dangerous goods.

dotThere are basically two types of truck drivers. Short-haul truck drivers transport materials in a limited area; long-haul truck drivers haul materials over long distances in large trucks or tractor-trailer rigs.

dotLocal, or short-haul, truck drivers may transport anything from fresh produce to clothing. They're often responsible for loading and unloading their cargo as well. Some truckers sell their company's product to local stores.

Long-haul drivers transport a huge variety of products. Loads vary from trailers carrying new cars to moving trucks full of people's belongings. Transporting the items can take days or even weeks.

dotWhile short-haul drivers may spend a lot of their time on the job loading and unloading their trucks, long-haul drivers spend the better part of their time driving.

Two truckers may be necessary for long runs. The partnership is necessary so that one trucker can sleep in the space behind the cab while the other drives. These tag-team trips can last for weeks, usually with the truck stopping only for necessities such as fuel and food or loading and unloading.

dotMost truck drivers are expected to know how to maintain their vehicles so they can make sure everything is running smoothly. They check to see that the brakes, windshield wipers and lights are working. Truckers are usually responsible for making minor repairs to their vehicles.

dotSafety, of course, is important to a trucker's job. When driving, they must be alert so they can manage the road and steer clear of accidents. Whether it's performing 30-minute safety checks before they take off or keeping their cool in busy traffic, safety has to be the number one priority for truckers, both on the road and off.

"Sometimes, with other drivers, you have to predict what they're going to do before they do it," says long-haul driver Joe Lubovinsky.

dotMost truckers work for trucking or wholesale companies like oil companies and grocery stores. Owner-operators often serve a variety of businesses, or lease their services and their trucks to a trucking company.

dotThe average workweek for short-haul drivers is about 48 hours. Long-haul drivers can work even longer hours -- around 60 hours in any seven-day period, with a well-deserved rest afterwards. Experts estimate that some truckers spend over 240 days a year away from home. Many describe long-haul trucking as a lifestyle, not just a job.

"It's a lonely life, but you're so busy driving you don't notice it much," says trucker Archie Archibald.

dotTrucking requires physical strength and stamina; you drive for many hours at a stretch and lift heavy material when unloading cargo. The driving can also be stressful. Steering a few tons of metal in bad weather or heavy traffic is enough to frazzle anyone's nerves!

Good hearing, 20/40 vision -- with or without glasses -- 70 degree field of vision in each eye, normal use of arms and legs and normal blood pressure are the minimum physical requirements. People who are color blind or those with epilepsy or diabetes can't be truck drivers.

dotMost states allow those who are 18 and older to drive trucks within state borders, but the U.S. Department of Transportation establishes minimum qualifications for truckers engaged in interstate commerce. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require that drivers must be at least 21 years old and pass a physical examination once every two years.

dotMost truckers receive on-the-job training. They must have a driver's license appropriate to the class of vehicle they are driving. Drivers who deal with hazardous products or dangerous goods must be certified by their employers.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Haul cargo from one destination to another

  • Most truckers work in other areas to get job experience before entering the profession
  • Not many truck drivers are women
  • Get some driving training from a trucking school and take a written test to get a commercial driver's license