At this very moment, and around the clock, coast-to-coast, trucks are on the road hauling the essentials—everything the Nation needs such as food, books, clothing, electronics, automobiles and medical supplies.
More than 3.6 million professional truck drivers, operating more than 36 million trucks of all classes, including 3.7 million typical Class 8 trucks keep America moving forward. There are over 8.7 million people employed in all facets in the trucking industry.
Trucking also plays an important role in trade exchanged between the United States and two of our largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico. Continuing to have free trade between our countries will only help our industry well into the future.
But a serious shortage exists in some segments of the trucking industry. It’s not a shortage of freight or equipment; it’s a shortage of men and women qualified to drive trucks.
The shortage is not due to a lack of interest, just basic economics – the demand for professional truck drivers is growing faster than the number of new drivers entering the field. The industry is desperate for new drivers. If you received your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) today, it’s almost certain there would be a job available to you tomorrow.
HERE'S A SNAPSHOT...
3.5 millionTruck Drivers
Professional Truck Drivers & Types of Driving Jobs
Most individual long haul drivers average from 100,000 miles to 110,000 miles a year, with an average daily run of about 500 miles a day. Regional and city drivers average about 48,000 miles behind the wheel annually. You do not need to buy or lease your own truck for most driver jobs. The vehicle is provided for you and usually maintained by the trucking company.
U.S. professional truck drivers are both men and women, vary in age, race, educational background, and live all over the United States.
There are different types of truck drivers:
Over the Road / Long-Haul Drivers operate heavy trucks and drive for long periods of time, either interstate (between states) or intrastate (within one state). Some long-haul drivers travel a few hundred miles and return the same day; others are away from home overnight, or for several days or weeks at a time. Some drivers work in teams, which can include spouse teams.
Pick-up and Delivery (P&D) / Local Drivers operate light, medium or heavy trucks and work in route-sales or pick-up- and-delivery operations. These drivers have more contact with customers than over the road drivers and usually make more stops each day. Those P&D drivers often need sales skills in addition to driving skills.
Specialized Trucking involves specialized trucks that handle unusual, oversized or sensitive loads. Drivers cover local and long-distance routes and need extra training to operate their equipment. Examples of specialized trucking include auto carriers, dry bulk carriers, (permitted) oversized and overweight loads, or double and triple trailers. Other permits may be required.
Hazardous Materials Drivers need to know about the content of the loads they are hauling, how to handle the loads safely and what to do in an emergency. Drivers who transport hazardous materials must also take a special test when applying for the CDL that certifies them as a hazardous materials driver. Examples of hazardous materials drivers include tank truck, over the road or P&D drivers carrying hazardous materials. Other permits and training may be required.
An Owner-Operator or Independent Driver owns his or her equipment, anything from a straight truck to a flat-bed tractor- trailer, and hauls freight on a contractual basis. Husband-and-wife owner-operator teams are very common, especially in the household goods moving industry. It is possible to make a good living as an owner- operator, but like many businesses, the competition is tight and there are many overhead expenses involved – equipment purchases, maintenance, fuel and insurance, to name just a few. Most owner-operators begin their careers as salaried drivers with a motor carrier before starting their own business.
Do You Have What It Takes?
To qualify for a truck driving job with a company operating in interstate commerce, a driver must meet the minimum requirements prescribed in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations guide. Each applicant must pass a knowledge and skills test. In addition to federal regulations, most companies have other rules and guidelines which a driver must follow.
Some basic requirments:
Age: While many states allow those 18 and older to drive trucks within state borders, federal regulations require drivers operating across state lines to be at least 21 years of age. The American Trucking Associations is actively working with Congress to change these rules and allow 18-years-olds, who have gone through a specific training program, to driver interstate. Fleets are willing to bring 18-year-olds on through apprenticeship programs and to work on the dock.
License: Every truck driver must have a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) issued by his/ her state of domicile. A commercial driver can hold a license from only one state. Specific endorsements (i.e.: hazardous materials, tank, double or triple trailer) may be required depending upon the company’s needs and the type of equipment you will be operating. Go to www.fmcsa.dot.gov for more information.
Physical condition: The U.S. Department of Transportation requires a driver to have a complete physical examination every two years. A driver must not have suffered any loss of a limb, nor have any physical defect or disease likely to interfere with safe driving or has been granted a skill performance evaluation certificate. A driver must not have a medical history or clinical diagnosis of diabetes that requires insulin for control.
Vision: A driver must have a minimum of 20/40 vision in each eye, with or without corrective lenses, and have a 70-degree field of vision in each eye. Drivers may not be color blind.
Hearing: A driver must be capable of perceiving a forced whisper in the better ear at not less than five feet, with or without the use of a hearing aid.
Education: All drivers must be able to read and speak English well enough to understand traffic signs, prepare required reports, and speak with law enforcement authorities and the public. (Note: Some companies may have additional educational requirements.)
Safety: The U.S. Department of Transportation sets safety rules for interstate truck drivers (vehicle inspections, hours of service, etc.), and drivers must learn these rules and comply with them. Most states have adopted similar rules for intrastate drivers.
Substance abuse: Strict regulations forbid the use of alcohol or drugs prior to or while operating commercial vehicles. Drivers are subject to drug and alcohol testing by their employers and by law enforcement officials under four different circumstances: pre-employment, post-accident, reasonable suspicion and random testing. A driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) must be no greater than 0.04 percent. Additionally, a driver must have no current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism and must not use any illegal drugs.
Criminal/ Driving record: A driver must not have been convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle; a crime involving drugs; driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or, hit-and-run driving which resulted in injury or death.
Education & CDL Options
How to choose a truck driving training school
A good way to get started on a career in driving is by enrolling in a truck driver training program. Driver training schools can be found in most parts of the country, often in community colleges, vocational-technical schools, and through private, proprietary schools. Many trucking companies also operate their own training facilities. Visit the Commercial Vehicle Training Alliance, the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools or the Professional Truck Driver Institute websites and learn more about driver training schools. Those organizations represent some of the most reputable schools.
To find the program that is right for you, visit as many schools either in person or on-line as you can and consider the following guidelines:
The school should have adequate facilities for in-class instruction, comparable to the average public school classroom. Classroom instruction should include lectures and training videos, and should adequately prepare you to pass the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) exam. Consider the teacher-student ratio and what courses are offered. Be sure their class curriculum is outlined in detail. Contact your state division of motor vehicles for a copy of the CDL study manual.
The school should provide a variety of well- maintained trucks, tractors and semi-trailers to train you for local, long-haul and city pick-up-and- delivery driving. The school should have an off-street area for initial, behind-the-wheel instruction in vehicle handling and maneuvering.
Instructors should have a solid background in truck driver training, combining education and actual driving experience. Be wary of schools that claim to be endorsed by the federal government, trucking associations, specific truck fleets, or that claim to train you in less than two weeks. Contact organizations to which such endorsement is noted and verify the claims.
Check with the local board of education or business licensing agency to see which certificates or licenses the school is required to have. Then, check to see that the licenses are displayed and are valid. (Telephone numbers for these agencies usually can be found in the state and local government section of the telephone directory or on the web.)
One of the best ways to verify the reputation of a training school is to ask local trucking companies if they hire graduates from that school. Talk with recent graduates about the content and quality of training received and ask if they have been successful in finding a truck driving job. Ask the training school how many student graduates receive their CDL.
Once you have decided on the program that is right for you, pay close attention to the following details before signing the contract:
Read and understand the contract and know exactly what your obligations are. Verify the tuition and other costs and terms governing refund or forfeiture of the down payment, should you fail to complete the program. If necessary, make arrangements (and be sure you clearly understand the terms) for financing the remainder of the tuition.
If the school is far from your home, check into the availability of room and board at the school. Be sure to investigate the adequacy and costs of those facilities. If you have dependents, be sure you have made arrangements to support them while you complete training.
Research the availability of truck driving jobs where you live and realize that you may need to relocate in order to find a driving job.
18-21-Year-Old Pilot Apprenticeship Program
Prospective drivers and technicians
Driver apprenticeships are an opportunity to receive on the job training with career progression at no out-of-pocket cost. By becoming an apprentice, you can obtain paid, relevant industry experience while acquiring the skills and credentials that trucking companies value. Some apprenticeships require prior receipt of your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), but others include that opportunity as part of the training.
The registered apprenticeship program, overseen by the US Department of Labor, is considered by many to be the gold star of workforce development programs, and ATA has been approved as a program sponsor for registered apprenticeships by US DOL.
The following motor carriers have recently registered apprenticeship programs through the American Trucking Associations. Additional details will be forthcoming, but interested apprentices are encouraged to visit their web pages to learn more about the companies and contact information for their apprenticeship programs:
In March of 2022, the American Trucking Associations was formally recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as an apprenticeship program sponsor for heavy truck drivers. This gives ATA-member companies the option to offer apprenticeships to job applicants while ATA and its partner FASTPORT—a USDOL intermediary specializing in transportation and logistics—administer the program. Participation is subject to certain minimum program requirements set by USDOL and/or USDOT (such as entry-level driver training and wage progression over time).
You can also find more apprenticeship openings near you for trucking or otherwise at apprenticeship.gov.
Safe Driver Under-21 Apprenticeship Program
In 49 states plus the District of Columbia, 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are permitted to obtain a CDL and drive heavy-duty commercial vehicles within state lines, but federal regulations have long prohibited those same drivers participating in interstate commerce. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 recently signed into law includes a nationwide pilot program to train commercial drivers under the age of 21 to cross state lines. The program is capped at 3,000 participating drivers at any one time.
For a motor carrier to participate, they must have a registered apprenticeship program through USDOL, their state agency, or ATA. A separate application into the Safe Driver program is also required, in addition to the following prerequisites:
Participating apprentices must be between 18-20 and hold an existing commercial driver’s license (or be in the process of obtaining one) to join the program.
All apprentice drivers must use specific equipment including an automatic manual or automatic transmission; an active braking collision mitigation system; a forward-facing video event capture system; and a governed speed of 65 miles per hour— at the pedal and under adaptive cruise control. FMCSA’s most recent notice stated that they would also require the addition of rear-facing (in-cab) cameras. ATA opposed adding the addition of this last-minute requirement. We will keep you informed if the requirement changes.
Until they graduate, apprentices must be accompanied by an experienced driver when they are developing their skills and driving in interstate commerce. The legislation defines experienced drivers as someone 26 or older, with five years of experience and no points on their license for moving violations or at fault accidents for the last 2 years.
The training requirements for the apprentices total 400 hours broken down as follows:
120-Hour Probationary Period. First, the apprentice must complete 120 hours of “on-duty time,” 80 hours of which must be “driving time”. During the 80 hours of “driving time,” the apprentice may drive a truck in interstate commerce, but only when accompanied by an experienced driver.
280-Hour Probationary Period. Second, the apprentice must complete 280 hours of “on-duty time,”160 hours of which must be “driving time”. During the 160 hours of “driving time,” the apprentice may drive a truck in interstate commerce, but only when accompanied by an experienced driver.
Participating motor carriers will need to set up record keeping processes and provide USDOT monthly with data to ensure full compliance, and there are certain restrictions. For example, apprentice participants may not transport passengers or hazardous cargo or operate a special configuration vehicle or a vehicle with a gross weight over 80,000 pounds. Also, make sure your insurance policy covers these drivers as they train and graduate.
FMCSA has now opened applications for the program. To apply, click here.
DEI Change Leader Awards
The trucking industry is a vibrant source of quality careers for Americans from all walks of life. It is a place where individuals can find acceptance, belonging and personal success as part of the glue that keeps America running. Diversity is a major part of the industry’s current and historical success.
In 2022, American Trucking Associations developed the ATA Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Change Leader Award to recognize ATA members who make a commitment to a culture of acceptance and belonging for their employees. The purpose of the award is to encourage industry innovation through the implementation of a DEI program.
Award recipients are recognized during ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition (MCE), below is a list of award recipients since the creation of the award. If equality, diversity, and inclusion are important to your career path, we recommend exploring any opportunities these companies have to offer.
ATA is very passionate about developing and recruiting a safe and trustworthy workforce. We also know the importance of ensuring American Veterans find a home outside of the military and can feel as though they are supported and have freedom in their workplaces.
With the ongoing shortage of drivers and qualified diesel technicians, ATA understands the impact this has on the industry. By working with local, state and federal leaders to find real solutions to these shortages, ATA is committed to providing a middle-class standard of living to tens of thousands of Americans. Among these individuals, ATA recognizes those who have honorably served in the United States armed services who deserve the opportunity to transition into second careers worthy of their service and sacrifice. That is why, through the Workforce Heroes Program, in finding ways to identify individuals of all variations of age, race and educational background who will work towards building the industry’s future, this recruitment and training includes those of veterans into the Trucking Industry.
Every year the number of fatalities on America’s highways reaches into the tens of thousands. The American Trucking Associations is doing something about this alarming national problem. Through ATA’s premier highway safety program, Share the Road, we deliver lifesaving safety information to the driving public across America.
In partnership with Share the Road sponsor Mack Trucks, Inc., we work with ATA motor carriers, highway safety organizations, and local and state officials around the country to broadcast safe driving techniques that can save lives. Share the Road is support- ed by teams of accident-free professional truck drivers dedicated to educating millions of motorists every year.
Through the news media, public events and other communications programs, Share the Road instructs drivers of all vehicles how to share the nation’s roads safely. By providing specific information about how crashes happen and how to avoid them, Share the Road is committed to improving driving behavior. We are deter- mined to make America’s roadways safer for all drivers and their families. One life lost in a traffic crash is one too many.
Never cut in front of a truck. Fully loaded trucks weigh up to 80,000 pounds and take the length of a football field to stop. Most cars weigh only 2,000 pounds.
Don’t linger alongside a truck; there are 4 large blind spots around trucks where cars disappear and the driver can’t see you.
Pass quickly to resume visibility and change lanes only when you can see both truck’s headlights in your rear-view mirror. Never pass on the right – the right blind spot runs the length of the trailer and extends out 3 lanes.
Steer clear of front and rear blind spots; stay back 20-25 car lengths and leave 4 car lengths in front of a truck for safety cushions – following a truck too closely obscures your view and the driver can’t even see you 30 feet behind the truck.
If you’re following a truck and you can’t see the driver’s face in the truck’s side mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you.
Allow trucks adequate space to maneuver; they make wide turns at intersections and require additional space.