Truck Driver Todd McCann from the Trucker Dump blog/podcast talks about his job as a Truck Driver.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a product relocation specialist… okay, I’m an Over-The-Road, or OTR Truck Driver. Gotta try to spice up the resume somehow.

How would you describe what you do?

It’s pretty simple really. I drive a big rig to deliver all the cool stuff that you want and need. Like any job, sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it stinks worse than a freshly-manured cornfield. Driving a truck is monotonous, yet it isn’t. We drive, we fuel, we eat, we shower (well, some of us do), we sleep, we repeat. Yet there’s also an adventurous aspect to it.

In this economy, I love knowing that I could quit my job today and start with another carrier in a day or two. As long as you keep a good record, you’ll never be without work.

What does your work entail?

It involves A LOT of time behind the wheel. Most OTR truckers work 70 hour weeks. Much of that time is spent driving. It isn’t as bad as it sounds though. You’ll have to trust my nearly 17 years of experience here. Working 70 hours as a trucker is not as hard as doing it at a factory. I know this from experience.

If we’re already under a load, we wake up, do our morning ritual (although it can just as easily be at night), do a short pre-trip inspection, and hit the road. We may have to stop for fuel somewhere along the way. Once we get to our delivery location, we check in with receiving, back into a dock, and wait to be unloaded (most OTR drivers rarely have to unload themselves). When finished, we get our bills signed and wait for our next load to pop up on our satellite system. When it comes up, we plan out our trip and head out to pick up the load. Rinse and repeat.

What’s a typical work week like?

Well that’s the thing. There really isn’t a “typical work week” for an OTR trucker. Our schedule is wonkier than Willie’s chocolate factory. We might drive all day on Tuesday and drive the graveyard shift on Wednesday. You might be hammer down for 6 days, then sit for 36 hours. It’s really a “hurry up and wait” kinda scenario.

How did you get started?

I got started because I wanted to become an architect. No, I’m not holding a funny little pipe right now. LOL I wanted to go to college, but was told that the course load was too much to hold a job while I was in school. Who knew building a popsicle stick skyscraper was so time consuming? LOL Since I was working on the loading dock at an egg-packing plant, I began to talk to truckers.

My plan was for The Evil Overlord (that’s the wife and ex co-driver) and I to drive as a team for a couple of years, pay off our debt, and go to school. Almost 15 years later, I’m still driving. She managed to escape after 9 years and is back in school now.

What do you like about what you do?

In this economy, I love knowing that I could quit my job today and start with another carrier in a day or two. As long as you keep a good record, you’ll never be without work.

I love the aspect of not knowing what’s coming next. I never know what town I’ll be picking up in or delivering to. That’s the adventurous aspect I spoke of earlier.

The unsteady schedule is both a blessing and a curse. No chance of getting in a rut there, but no chance of getting a normal schedule either. It does keep things interesting.

Another cool thing is that most companies will let you take time off wherever you want; provided they have freight moving where you want to go. The Evil Overlord and I once asked for a load to Las Vegas where we met some relatives who flew out. When they hopped on the plane to return home, we loaded up the truck. So in essence, we got paid to travel to and from our vacation spot. Nifty, huh?

Perhaps the best thing about truck driving is being on the open road and the freedom that comes with it. No bland grey cubicle walls for us truckers! It’s one of the few jobs I can think of where you have a boss, but no one is breathing down your neck all day. Most dispatchers are so busy they don’t really want to talk to you unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve gone for over a week without needing to talk to my boss. It’s sooooo sweet.

What do you dislike?

For me, the worst thing by far is being away from home so much. There’s no chance to build real, live, face-to-face friendships, you miss a lot of family events, and it’s nearly impossible to get involved in a church or your community. My trucking company has a two weeks out minimum requirement on the particular fleet I’m on. Even though I want to go home, I usually stay out 3-4 weeks to earn as much money as possible. I will point out that every company has different guidelines about how often you can go home. Just remember, the typical rule is: “The more you’re home, the less money you’ll make.” That’s true about 95% of the time.

Another thing I absolutely hate about the trucking industry is the waiting. Some customers are worse than others, but NO ONE escapes from waiting in this industry. It’s not uncommon for a trucker to sit in a dock for 3-4 hours before they’re loaded. The longest I’ve sat is 12 hours. Needless to say, I was a bit grumpy that day. Usually, you’re not even paid for this lost time. Not only that, but if the customer requires you to be on the dock for loading or unloading, this lost dock time can go against the hours you can legally drive. So any way you slice it, you’re getting punched in the wallet.

And the regulations… dear God, the regulations. More on that in a bit.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Although loads can be paid by a percentage (of the revenue paid to the carrier), or a driver can make a salary, the majority of OTR drivers are paid by the mile. Unfortunately, most companies use an antiquated system to figure these miles. I’m just going to come out and say it. Truckers rarely get paid for every mile they run. This is one of the things that bugs the snot out of me. Typically, we get shorted 10% on miles. So if your run is 1000 ACTUAL miles, you’ll only be paid for 900.

Yes, it stinks, but it’s the nature of the beast. Or as truckers like to say, “That’s truckin’.” Nearly every carrier does this, so there’s really no escaping it. They like to say that some trips actually pay more miles, but they’ve been sniffing too much White-Out. Of the thousands of trips I’ve run, I’d say only a handful of them paid more than actual miles. And when it did, it certainly wasn’t even 10% over. Grrrr. Next subject please… before I blow a gasket.

How much money do Truck Drivers make?

That all depends on your experience. With 17 years under my butt, I’ve pretty much maxed out on my potential. I work for one of the highest paying trucking companies and I was recently informed that I was in the top 4% for miles and wages earned. I made $59,000 gross this year. The best I’ve done was in 2007 when I was in the top 1% and made $66,000. There are a few better paying driving jobs out there, but they’re with companies that are so exclusive that in order to get hired, a driver has to die and you have to be related to the deceased. LOL

How much money do Truck Drivers make starting out?

Most driver recruiters will quote $40-45,000 for a driver fresh out of driving school. I think that’s about right. At least it was when I started in 1997. Sadly, driver pay really hasn’t gone up much since then. There are some companies out there who will take advantage of your rookie status, so be on the lookout and shop around.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Most carriers require you to attend a truck driving school nowadays. There, you’ll obtain a learner’s permit, be taught the basics of how to drive, and eventually earn your CDL (Commercial Drivers License). Once you’re hired by a trucking company, you’ll be matched with a trainer. That’s when your real training starts. Schools can last anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks (those 2-week school graduates scare the crap out of me). Training will usually last anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, depending on your progress. By the way, you’ll be paid a salary while you’re in training.

Now if you have an Uncle Stan like me that owns a trucking company, it’s my understanding that there’s no rule saying he can’t train you and stick you in a truck. But for most people, a real school is required. Not to mention, if Uncle Stan ever cans you, you’re totally hosed without formal training.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Well, doing a blindside back (where you can’t see out your driver’s side window) with a 53-foot trailer in a crowded truck stop parking lot at night isn’t much fun. LOL And of course, there’s the traffic and the horde of insane 4-wheeler pilots out there.

I think perhaps one of the most challenging things is the ever-increasing regulations and restrictions put on truckers. Here’s a few of them:

Electronic logs give you no leeway to do your job when things don’t go as planned (which happens a lot). Still, that’s the way the industry is going. It’s only a matter of time before everyone has them. Granted, if the Hours-of-Service rules were more flexible, e-logs wouldn’t be as much of an issue. As of now, we drivers need some “wiggle room” and electronics logs just aren’t good wigglers. I pretty much loathe e-logs and have written numerous blog posts about the cursed things.

More and more states are adding idling restrictions now. Technically, it’s illegal to idle your truck for more than a few minutes in many states. 20 degrees out? Illegal to idle. A scorching 95 degrees? Still illegal. Who cares how comfortable you are when you’re trying to sleep? Luckily, the cops rarely enforce these laws. But what if they start? State revenues are low these days.

The CSA (Comprehensive Safety Analysis) is a new system that gives a driver a “score” based on their safety record. These points follow the driver. Get too many and a company can fire you. And that probably means another company won’t want to hire you either. So, I can hear you saying, “Well just drive safe and this won’t be an issue.” True. But sometimes drivers can get points for things out of their control. For example, a driver can get points for a burned out light. Often times, this happens while we’re driving so we have no possible way of knowing that our rear license plate light crapped out. Ooooo. What a threat to safety that is. Not. Here’s something even screwier. If a cop gives you a ticket, you can fight it. If you win, you can request the points be taken off your CSA score. That’s cool. But if you get a warning instead of a ticket, well, there’s no way to fight a warning. But you get just as many CSA points for the warning as you do for getting a ticket. Ugh. Clearly, they need to work some bugs out of this system. Hopefully they’ll call the exterminator before it gets out of control.

Okay, that’s enough ranting. Someone get me a cool wash rag and a chill pill.

What is most rewarding?

There really is a sense of accomplishment with trucking. You pick up a load, you deliver it, and someone gets the junk they want. So when I deliver a load of ramen noodles to a grocery warehouse, I’m doing my part to ensure that thousands of college students will survive another day. LOL

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

First, go in with a plan for your money. If you’re used to fast food wages and you start making $40,000 per year, you’ll probably go a little crazy with the spending. I know we did. And that’s partly why I’m still out here almost 17 years later.

Also, if you have a problem with your weight, well, driving a truck will likely only make that worse. The Evil Overlord and I didn’t have weight issues when we started, but we both gained weight eventually. We did manage to lose it again while still on the road, but it took a lot of self-discipline on her part. I just eat what’s put in front of my face, so it wasn’t that difficult for me. Many truckers don’t have that kind of willpower. It’s really easy to make bad food choices when you’re constantly in a hurry.

How much time off do you get/take?

This is one of the cool things about trucking. There is no standard. You get to find a company that fits what you’re looking for. It could be 1 day off for every 7 on the road, 2 days off for every 10 on the road, out for 1 week and off for 1 week, home every weekend, home every night, etc. The possibilities really are astounding. Just remember what I said before; typically the more often you’re home, the less money they’re willing to pay you.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That trucking is a fun adventure where you’ll get to “see the world.” While you will get to see a lot of the country, many of the things you want to see aren’t on the beaten path. In other words, you’ll have to plan to see them or you never will. And let’s not forget, truck driving is still a job, no matter how much fun you think it’ll be.

Another thing that bugs me is how the media always makes us out to be drug-addled, fatigued truckers who have a cross-hair hood ornament with your name on it. That just isn’t true. A study of random drug screens showed that only 1.5% of drivers where under the influence of drugs. Only 0.1% were legally drunk. That’s POINT 1%!! And need I remind you that truckers are considered “under the influence” at .04 levels, which is half of that allowed to automobile drivers at .08. Furthermore, when there is an accident involving a truck and a car, over 70% of the time it’s the auto driver who is at fault. Not to mention, trucks are only involved in 7% of all wrecks. So who’s the dangerous drivers out there?

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I would love to get out of trucking. 17 years is a long time to be away from home and a “normal” life. I really miss having relationships with real people. As of now, all my friends involve a screen and a keyboard. And now that The Evil Overlord isn’t out here with me, it’s even worse. I’ve had an exit strategy for a while, but something always seems to come up to thwart it. I’m either going to try to get into pharmacy school, or I may have another job option in the works. Gonna have to see how that pans out.

You know, I’ve said it hundred times and I’ll say it again. I do like driving a truck. If I could find a truck driving job that would pay me $75,000 per year and allow me to be home every night, I’d keep on truckin’. But I’ve got a better chance of catching the tooth fairy and holding her for ransom than I do of finding anything close to that.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I’d like people to go in with both eyes open. It takes a special kind of person to drive a truck for a living. If you’re single or a married couple without kids in the house, maybe you’re the ideal candidate. Maybe not if you want to be there for all your kid’s events. Or maybe you should just do it short term to accomplish a certain goal? Who knows. Just look at it with a true perspective if you’re considering truck driving as a career.

Lastly, I’d like to try to get rid of this stereotypical trucker that’s running around in all of our minds. Heck, it still exists in mine, so I know it does in the general public’s. Not all truckers are overweight, filthy, uneducated, perverted rednecks. While we certainly have our fair share of those guys out here, the majority of truckers are your average Joe. The difference is, they’re doing a vital job that many people don’t want.

And lastly #2 (sorry, I can’t seem to shut up), please feel free to ask me any trucking-related questions in the handy-dandy comments section below. I promise to respond to them as soon as possible. Thanks!