The life of a trucker is demanding, competitive, but in the end rewarding. In a business where you are on the road, alone for up to six weeks at a time, traveling through every kind of weather there is, and prone to a fresh world of mishaps and inconveniences it is really easy to become overwhelmed.
However, if you survive that first year, just about any trucker will tell you that you made it through the worst. If you choose to only look at the bad your first year as a trucker can be the most difficult challenge you have ever faced. Think of it as a sort of pledging process for a career as a trucker.
Here is some advice for how to survive that first year on the road and in turn open up a world of opportunities in your career.
- As a rookie driver, you WILL BE TESTED. In the trucking business there are wanted loads and unwanted loads. By unwanted loads I mean freights that pay less, deliver to a customer who is difficult to deal with, or a particularly heavy load on a holiday.
- Most of the time it is easier to get new guys to take these loads because they don’t yet realize why experienced drivers pass on them. Expect the worst when dealing with customers and convenience of loads in that first year.
- You won’t get rich quick. Sure there are some guys who decide to live in a cheap apartment that first year for the sake of saving up for a better nest but as far as loads go, don’t expect to get the golden nugget in your first year. Some loads are for a particularly important customer, some carry more precious goods, some loads have higher freight rates, and some loads may make or break a relationship with a customer.
- These loads pay more because of their importance. Don’t expect too many of these loads in your first year. No company is going to give these potential make-or-break loads to an inexperienced driver unless they have no choice. Have you proven to be a consistently safe driver? Are you on time? Can you drive those long hours at night; maybe bend the rules a little if it means getting the freight to its destination on time? Your company won’t know unless they test you first. Be patient and your golden nuggets will come.
- You will be forced to wait and be late. Some loading docks or shippers will take 16 hours before they load you. Waiting and driving are the two things you will do most as a trucker. The key is to find ways of making both enjoyable.
- The best to do while you are waiting is rest. Sleep is one thing you need to get whenever you can when out on the road. Anytime where you are forced to wait for a load, catch up on sleep because odds are you’re about to have a long drive ahead of you to make up for the time lost.
- You WILL GET LOST. Nobody likes to hear this but in this business it is going to happen. I don’t care how good with directions you are or how well you know your way around this whole continent, you will get lost. When this happens (and it will) don’t freak out, remain calm. Pull over if you’re frustrated as driving angry and confused will only increase your chances of getting in an accident.
- Figure out where you are and where you went wrong. Did you get back directions, write an address down wrong, take a wrong turn? If you have a smartphone with GPS use that to pinpoint where you are but NEVER use it for navigation. The reason for this is because these car-based GPS systems don’t account for big rig roads. Imagine you end up at a dead-end in some suburb with a tight cul-de-sac full of cars, mail boxes, basketball hoops, etc. Backing a rig out of a tight spot like that without hitting anything can be a pain.
- Do yourself a favor and treat Rand-MacNally Motor Carrier’s Road Atlas like a dear loved one because it is the most reliable map you can have. Other things you can do are call the shipper or get on the CB and call out to another trucker and ask for directions. Also, do your research on your route before hitting the road, always try and be prepared in case of mishaps.
- Know who to turn to for help. Experience is the best teacher but very veteran trucker will tell you that they got help somewhere along the way. That first year is going to be rough as it is. Every trucker knows this and is all the more reason why you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. Fellow drivers at truck stops are great for answering your questions such as “What do I do if (blank) breaks down?” or “Who do I talk to about this?”
- Also, most companies now have special liaisons out there who are paid to come help you when you need it. These guys are basically experienced drivers who have been with their company for many years and have a great understanding of both the driver and management’s point of view. These guys are always knowledgeable and great at communicating with both ends on how to solve a problem. Take advantage and use them if your company has them.
The trucking industry offers a career of seeing parts of the country some people never see in their lifetime. It can bring you tons of stories worth sharing later on and life as well as a rewarding job in knowing that you are the backbone of this country as you transport the goods that keep that keep this country going.
Sure that first year is tough, but every veteran driver will tell you once that first year is over, the hard part is done and you can now start “livin on the road” as opposed to just working. The most important thing is to keep your head high and your eyes on the road. You never know where your next load will take you, it may be the best decision you’ve ever made. Have a safe drive!
Dale Jackson has been passionate about the open road. He writes for Capital Solutions, who specialize in commercial truck financing.