Many people are looking at professional truck driving as a new career, especially in the current economic situation at the time of this writing. Trucking can turn out to be a stable vocation that will provide a decent living for many.
Currently, there are around eight million CDL holders in the United States, with about four million of those being active drivers. Trucking is not all bad. Over the road trucking (OTR) on the other hand, has proven to be a living nightmare for thousands upon thousands of new CDL drivers and veterans alike.
Many drivers love what they do . . . but many more hate it. OTR freight hauling is a tough vocation that is commonly described by many drivers as a present day slavery. Most new students and drivers breaking into the industry have no idea or concept about how the trucking business works. Furthermore, most veteran drivers remain silent about the practices of an industry that has been noted by some as the most dishonest, corrupt and lying industry on the planet. Sadly, this dishonesty, corruption and lying comes at the expense of the new student and driver.
To further comprehend the trucking game, the newcomer needs to be aware of the mistakes and misconceptions that so many CDL students and new drivers make when first starting out in the business.
Hopefully, this report will assist in that understanding.
The 7 Biggest Mistakes by CDL Students and New Drivers
(7) Believing there is BIG MONEY in OTR trucking
All too often, the newcomer to trucking is led by the trucking company recruiter that there is big money to be made in OTR trucking. Other factors such as advertising will play a role in this misconception as well.
Yearly figures like $70,000 – $80,000 and even $100,000 are thrown around for the sake of enticement. Although there are driving jobs that pay this well, these are jobs that generally take years of driving experience and proven skill, and are only given to those drivers who have spent years in the industry and have shown professionalism throughout their careers.
The $100,000 figure that trucking companies and recruiters like to throw around for becoming an Owner Operator and being your own boss is misleading as well. After taxes and expenses, most owner operators will end up netting very close to what the average company driver will earn . . . and what is that?
The average over the road driver in the U. S. earns between $35,000 and $42,000 per year gross . . . during GOOD TIMES! In downward economy, many OTR drivers are reporting raking in a whopping $25,000 to $27,000 per year!
Don’t fall for the hype they try to sell you on about making BIG MONEY in OTR driving. $35K to $42K per year . . . average earnings. That is what you should expect and be prepared to earn, with the understanding that it could be less at any given time.
(6) Thinking the Starter company actually cares about You as a person
With 36 years of trucking and 4 million safe miles, there are those drivers who believe that I am just a tired, worn-out trucker who despises the entire trucking industry, and I am now just attacking the business as a whole. This is not the case.
I still make my living driving a truck and there are those times when I still actually miss OTR driving. My body, on the other hand, cries out: You can’t do it anymore!
What got me started on a mission to raise the standards of the trucking industry, is all the years I watched drivers, both new and veteran, get beaten down by the deceitful practices of the industry . . . including myself.
I spent most of my life in household goods and did very well at it . . . it was when I left the moving business and entered into OTR general freight hauling that the nightmare began.
I discuss the good and bad of the industry, mostly focusing on the bad because if nobody does, how will things ever change? I mention quite often that there are very good trucking companies out there.
Core Carrier Corp.
The problem is, that newcomers to the industry believe that they will finish CDL school and come right out of training and start working for companies such as these. The truth of the matter is . . . you will not.
The good companies out there require experience . . . some as much as 2-3-4 years of driving experience before they will hire you. When the economy is strong and freight is good, companies such as Millis and Roehl will take on new CDL drivers due to the fact that they are just a few of the good trucking companies that just happen to have their own CDL school training. Most of the good companies do not train.
It is because of this experience that the good companies require, that creates a catch 22 for the new CDL truck driver. Ninety nine percent of the time, the newcomer to trucking will have to begin their driving careers with what I call the starter companies. Although right now, they do provide a service to the trucking industry, many of these starter companies also provide the most destruction to new CDL students and drivers.
As newcomers begin their careers excited, many . . . in the thousands . . . will fail at trucking. NOT because of anything they did, but due to the games some of these companies play.
Trucking companies move freight . . . you, in the beginning of your career especially, are most often just a number . . . just a driver . . . a new student/driver being paid at the lower end of the pay scale, moving their freight . . . bringing them more profit.
Their recruiters are trained to talk the talk and tell you what you want to hear, but you must understand that in the beginning, these companies do not expect you to stay in their employment. In fact, many of them will see to it that you do not.
At the start of your career understand that the company cares very little about you or your family. Their only concern is moving the freight at the cheapest way possible, and the way they do that is to constantly move out student/drivers which they can pay at the low end of the scale.
In general, the beginning of your truck driving career will be one in which you will have to pay your dues. Why? Because that is how it has always been and drivers have never set out to change it. They have only accepted this fact and this abuse of employees continue.
For instance, one of the BIGGEST scams in the trucking industry is the truck lease option for wannabe owner operators. Another is the long, on-going DAC reporting scam. For years, drivers have known that these two scams alone destroy thousands of lives financially . . . yet it went unknown publicly . . . I decided it was time to change all of that.
One of our most popular talk shows on Truth About Trucking LIVE was about this very issue of the owner operator lease programs. Finally, someone was actually talking about this trucking scam and other practices.
Understand, that in the beginning, your driving career just may not go the way you expected it would. Then again . . . it may! Who really knows the nature of the beast? Do not expect the beginning trucking company to really care about you or the provisions in life that you are seeking.
Expect on the other hand, that after you build your driving experience that the good trucking companies require, you will then be able to move on to one of these better companies that do treat their drivers in a more professional manner, if in fact, the starter company you begin with is not working out.
(5) Leaving your first driving job too soon
Many CDL graduates are writing me explaining that they were hired by a trucking company and after 30 days, 3 months or whatever, they ended up quitting due to lack of miles or various other reasons as many of us know.
Once you land your first truck driving job out of CDL training school, if at all possible, you need to try your best to stick it out with that first company for at least one year, or better yet, two years.
For years, veteran drivers have gotten away with job hopping but not so much now, and certainly not for newcomers just starting out. Leaving the truck driving job after only one, two or three months, is like digging your own professional truck driving job grave.
First, the trucking company just possibly shelled out thousands of dollars for your training. Secondly, they will look at you as someone who really is not serious about being an OTR driver and finally, they will most likely turn around and file a negative complaint on you against your DAC Report.
This DAC file could turn out to be your nail in the coffin. Other than having stricter policies, better driver treatment, driver respect and so forth, practically all trucking companies do the exact same thing:
- Pick up freight at point A
- Deliver that freight to point B
If you only lasted six weeks on your very first time out, why would other trucking companies believe that you will last with them? You will be doing the exact same thing you were doing the six weeks before. The reasons you left are not important to them . . . remember, many of these over the road trucking outfits operate in the same manner.
The recruiters and many of the not-so-honest CDL schools are going to tell you what you want to hear. Your chances of starting out as a new driver and pulling in $1000 per week right off the bat, is not reasonable. It could happen, but not usual with a new CDL graduate and beginning your career with one of these starter companies.
After finishing CDL training, be prepared to run the road for at least one year and better yet, for two years. Some will say for six months, but that one year is really the magic number. Keep in mind, that many of the really good trucking companies out there, require two and sometimes three or more years of verifiable driving experience . . . that is why many are the better trucking companies.
Be prepared for the one year of sacrifice and plan ahead for your future finances. Perhaps your spouse will have to continue to work for that first year . . . perhaps you will have to dip into your savings . . . whatever the case, just be prepared for the commitment and sacrifice of running OTR for one year.
If after only a few weeks or even a few months, you are just not making it and you have to quit . . . just understand that this is one of the ways a new CDL graduate can almost certainly assure ending their truck driving career before it even begins.
(4) Believing You Are Going to be Part of a Brotherhood
Years ago, a trucker could break down on the side of the road and within 15 minutes there would be five . . . ten . . . a dozen other truckers stopped to see if they needed any help. Not so much the case any longer.
For whatever reasons, the past Brotherhood of trucking is nearly dead and gone. Many newcomers look forward to making the move to long haul trucking and becoming part of a somewhat secret society and included within this brotherhood.
There are still, of course, thousands of truck drivers across the nation who conduct themselves in a highly professional manner, but overall, I believe most will agree that the Brotherhood of Trucking has long been lost, and appears that it is never to return.
(3) Moving Towards Success . . . too FAST too SOON!
Achieving that CDL license and finally jumping in the big rig solo and heading out across the U.S. can be exciting. You’re wanting to get rolling and start working towards a successful career in over the road trucking.
You have heard about the big money that owner operators make, and you want to be a part of it! However, as a newcomer to the industry, the best possible means to success for you is . . . take it nice and slow.
All too often, new drivers will want to immediately become an owner operator, taking on all the responsibilities that come with it, when in fact, they are just beginning to learn the industry itself. It is a recipe for disaster.
There are a lot of things to learn about the OTR industry. Most importantly, the company you are hiring on with . . . are they one of the good companies?
- Will they give you consistent miles?
- Are they supportive of their owner operators?
- What are their freight lanes?
A ton of information about an industry and its practices, that you are just beginning. Keep in mind, that on any given day, there are veteran owner operators who are barely keeping their heads above water, financially.
Many of them have fallen for the owner operator lease purchase scam, offered by many trucking companies. Although there are companies with good and decent O/O programs, they are few and far between, and especially with the starter companies, these trucking company owner operator lease purchase programs have shown to have a high driver failure rate.
Here’s the link to one of my talk shows where I discussed these programs:
I admire the entrepreneur spirit you may have, but to jump into an owner operator position, small fleet owner business, etc., before learning the ropes of the industry, will be a set-up for failure. Give yourself between 3-5 years of driving experience and learning the industry and that should be enough time to learn the good from the bad and to make better future career decisions.
(2) Choosing the Wrong CDL Truck Driving School
Finding the right truck driving school can be quite a challenge for the newcomer. What questions should you ask and what should you be looking for in a truck driving school? Making the right choice can either make or break your career before you even get started. Before you hand over thousands of dollars for CDL training, let’s look at some important factors to consider:
- Is the school licensed by the State?
- Is it Accredited
- Is it Certified?
To understand these factors you must understand what each of these terms represent:
1. A State business license shows that the business in question has filed and paid the appropriate fees, and have met the guidelines set forth by the State, which allows them to legally operate that business within the State they reside.
2. Accreditation refers to schools that have been accredited by an agency that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
Only truck driving schools that have been accredited are entitled to have access to federal student grants and loans. There are very few truck driving schools that have achieved accreditation because of the tough standards and the expensive process. A truck driving school that has been accredited, shows that they have met the highest standards for education.
3. Certification, on the other hand, pertains to a truck driving school that has met the training standards set forth by the trucking industry.
Certification shows that an independent third party, unrelated to the truck driving school, has inspected the school and has officially “certified” that the training offered to the students have met the basic skills required to be a truck driver within the entry level.
PTDI is the only organization that currently certifies truck driving schools. PTDI (Professional Truck Driver Institute) is based out of Alexandria, Virginia. Certification is voluntary and a truck driving school is not required to be certified by PTDI. Therefore, keep in mind, that just because a school is not PTDI certified, does not mean they are a “bad” school. Never the less, I believe that being PTDI certified only further justifies a school’s reputation.
If you are not certain about your school’s certification, you can contact PTDI at 703-647-7015, or write to them at:
- 555 E. Braddock Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22314
You can also check for a PTDI certified school through their website’s school locator.
In addition, truck driving schools should offer late model vehicles, similar to those that you will be driving in the “real world.” I would not be concerned if the trucks are not bright, shiny new one’s, since this is a training facility where the trucks receive rough handling through students grinding the gears and really putting them through the test.
But, they should not be out of date equipment, or even have automatic transmissions. I can assure you that in reality, you will be in a 10- speed manual transmission at the least. If you train in an automatic, you will be completely lost when you begin searching for truck driving jobs.
You will also want to train in conventional trucks and not “cabovers,” since these types of vehicles are nearly extinct. In addition, you will want to know the student to truck ratios and the student to an instructor ratio. The lower the number, the better. Many truck driving schools will have a student to truck ratio of 10:1 and obviously, you are not going to be in the truck actually driving, very often. This also brings up another important issue . . .observation time.
Quite often, schools will have 3-4 students in a truck at one time. While one is driving, the others are to “observe.” This is a complete waste of time and money. If any of the truck driving schools tell you there will be observation time in your training . . . run!
There are three types of truck driving schools:
- Motor carrier
A certified, private school is acceptable, but will be very costly. I would not recommend this type of training facility. A truck driving school by a motor carrier is simply a “school” where you train for 2-3 weeks with the carrier, and then you will have to ride with a driver- trainer for several more weeks. This is absolutely the worst thing you could do!
Remember, any training that is only 2-3 weeks in length, is considered a “CDL mill.” Their only goal is to get you just good enough to pass the CDL test, and then they want you in their truck to get the freight moving. Also, you will be required to work for that carrier, and that carrier only, for at least one year. You will be paid at the very bottom of the pay scale. Stay away from motor carrier truck driving schools, with a few exceptions, which I’ll touch on later . . .
The best school for CDL training is the public training facility. Generally, these are your Vo-Tech schools. PTDI certification requires students to have 44 hours of actual driving time. This is the minimum. Any training that states you will receive your CDL in a few weeks, is a scam.
To achieve the best training, where the trucking industry will take notice, will take you at least three or more months. This is where the Vo-Tech courses will come into play. Not only is the training usually three months or longer, but the actual time for driving, really hands-on experience, will exceed the 44 hours required by PTDI. In addition, the Vo-Tech training is far cheaper than the private schools as well as most of the motor carrier truck driving schools.
Not only will you achieve the best training possible with a Vo-Tech course, you will end up paying thousands less. Get your training through a Vo-Tech school and stay away from the truck driving schools the motor carriers offer, with a few exceptions I mentioned earlier.
Although they are few and far between, there are a handful of good trucking companies which have their own CDL training school. Whether they are hiring or not, will largely depend on your geographical location.
Two very good trucking companies with their own CDL training programs are:
- Roehl Transport
- Millis Transfer
A few companies that I feel are often over-looked by newcomers to the industry are:
- KLLM Transport Services
(Must have attended a KLLM approved school Graduation date must be within the last 30 days)
- Arnold Transportation
(Must have graduated from an Arnold Transportation Services approved Truck Driving School)
To be the best at anything, takes determination and the willingness to learn. To run through a CDL mill only creates dangerous drivers. With a few exceptions, trucking companies created their truck driving schools as part of the scam to take advantage of the innocent.
If professional truck driving is in your plan, take the time to investigate the truck driving schools that you are interested in approaching. With the right training, and the willingness to invest the time, money and effort, you will not only come away with your CDL, but you will truly be a professional.
(1) FAILURE TO GET STARTED ASAP!
The largest sector of industry is the trucking transportation division. At the time of this writing, there are over 8 million CDL holders in the United States, with about 4 million being active commercial truck drivers.
There are roughly 550,000 for-hire and private carriers in the U.S., employing over 8 million people. Stats show that one in every fifteen people are actively employed through trucking transportation.
Businesses spend, on the average, 88 cents out of every dollar for shipping their goods by truck. Truckers carry nearly 70% of all freight combined, and the trucking industry serves over 80% of all the communities in the U.S. for the products they receive.
So what does this all mean?
- The trucking industry offers HUGE job opportunities
- Once you receive your CDL license there is NO TIME for WAITING!
Millions of people look at the trucking industry for employment, and the spot that is most often available is the driver position. Once you complete CDL school and you have your license in hand, you must get started driving right away!
All too often, for whatever reasons, a new CDL graduate will decide to wait a while before starting that first driving job. Their first mistake is believing that now that they have the CDL in hand, they will always be able to land a driving job . . . now . . . or later.
The time to act is now . . . right after graduation . . . right after CDL school. Remember, regulations and policies state that a driver hire must have one year recent, verifiable driving experience before they can be hired by a trucking company. By completing an accredited, licensed CDL school, you have met the qualifications for driving experienceÂ in which a company looks for before hiring.
You are eligible NOW . . . not later!
If you decide to wait and see what kind of driving job comes up, or you just want to sit on your CDL for awhile and see what other opportunities are out there . . . you are making the #1 biggest mistake as a CDL student or new driver.
If you do not get started driving ASAP . . . right after CDL graduation, then you will find yourself with a CDL license that is totally worthless. By waiting even a few short months before landing that driving job, most motor carriers will no longer look at you as a recent graduate and you will find yourself right back at the beginning . . . and quite possibly having to attend a CDL school all over again, or at the least, will be required to take a refresher course which currently can run around $1500.
If you wait for several months or even a year before going to work as a truck driver, you will no doubt find your CDL license is worthless, and you will have to pay for CDL school all over again.
As soon as you finish CDL school . . . begin your driving career right then and right NOW! Don’t put it off . . . don’t wait . . . you have to get started driving immediately after finishing CDL training.