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How to Become a Truck Driver

Reagan Alexander has been writing professionally since 2006. He is a Los Angeles-based writer for "People" magazine. Alexander graduated from Boston College with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature.

Drive a truck for a living. The open road is calling.

The modern trucking industry is the bedrock of the U.S. economy. For those with a safety-first mentality and the ability to learn how to operate a multipiece rig, hiring firms will in return offer financial stability, a satisfied wanderlust and career advancement.

Safety is our number one core value. We take safety very seriously, and my role is to ensure that we have the best training and policies in place to make sure that all of our drivers and employees return home safely every day, and to make sure that we also protect the motoring public who we share the road with.

Keep Your Hands on the Wheel
There are training requirements over and above what a passenger vehicle driver would have. The [Department of Transportation] has many regulations with regard to safety, how to maintain your equipment, how to inspect your equipment -- but we really don't have strict requirements as far as education. Obviously a high school degree is preferred, but quite frankly, if you don't have one, we will certainly put you through training that will help you become a good, safe driver.

Avoiding Distractions
We share the road with other drivers. We understand the rules of the road, but sometimes a fellow driver may not have the same experience, training or professionalism. If I had to single out one issue, it would be driver distraction. How we navigate our highways today in a car is different than how we did it 20 years ago. There are so many more distractions within the vehicle, whether it's cell phones, texting or any device that takes your attention off the road. "Once you take your attention off the road, you're asking for trouble," Petrancosta says.

Get to Trucking
Simply put, we're always looking for a man or a woman who wants to make the transportation industry their career. It certainly can be just a job, but it offers much more than that. It offers stability for you and your family, and we want somebody who is first and foremost committed to safety. If a candidate is interested, one of the things they can do is come to our company, and if they meet certain qualifications and are fit to drive, we would hire them and train them. And they would have the opportunity for a long career.

At Home on the Highway
One thing is that all of our drivers actually come home every night. Even though we move freight from border to border, from the East Coast to the West Coast and then back again, we do it in a relay system so that we transfer freight and trailers between different cities and different drivers. But there is a special type of driver, one who is safety-minded, doesn't mind hard work, loading and unloading the trucks and driving the trucks anywhere from 200 to 500 miles at night or during the day. It's a lot of work, so we look for someone with a good work ethic, a good attitude and someone who wants to make this job a career.

Getting Your Ride
If you don't come with a commercial driver's license, we still offer the ability to hire you, so that you have a job, maybe loading freight in our dock environment, and after 30 days of employment in good standing, you become eligible to enter into one of our driving schools. Our driving schools are homegrown, and as a candidate and a student you would go through a 240-hour curriculum. After a 12-week program, 20 hours a week, you would graduate with a job waiting for you behind the wheel of one of our trucks.

The Physical Tools
Before you can get your CDL, you're required to pass a Department of Transportation physical; there are requirements that include coming in under a certain blood pressure threshold and you also have to meet certain physical capabilities, outlined in those qualifications. As far as Con-way is concerned, a potential candidate would have to undergo a series of exercises that would replicate the type of work that they would be doing, such as: can they get in and out of the truck often, can they move freight and are they in good physical shape. If they pass that test, then there is a drug test, background check; then, if they pass all that, we train them until we feel they're ready to get into a truck.

Not The Family Sedan
There are many differences. Obviously the size of the vehicle represents the biggest difference. Our trucks and trailers can be from 28 to 53 feet long, so you're driving a combination vehicle made up of two units, or maybe even three units. Then there's the fact that you're driving with air brakes, which is something that is not standard on cars obviously, so it's a different type of braking system. You certainly have many more blind spots in a large vehicle that you wouldn't have in a car, so that makes negotiating the highways more challenging. You're sitting higher up on the road; your stopping distance, due to the weight of the vehicle, is different.

Working on the Road
There is a great adventure every day that unfolds in front of you. Every day can be different than the day before. If you enjoy just getting into your car with no particular place to go, then you probably would enjoy this profession. You're not sitting behind a desk every day -- you're interfacing with people, whether they be your peers, or customers or the friends that you make on the road. "That's the attraction: sitting behind the wheel, road in front of you, with no one looking over your shoulder, and you are your own boss during that time," Petrancosta says. That's an independent way of thinking and feeling that a lot of people really look forward to.

Take Home Pay
New candidates, right out of school, can earn up to $70,000 a year. It's a very well-paying profession because there is a lot of responsibility, and a lot of commitment is required. It can be very lucrative, and you can earn that coming right out of driving school. There is the ability to earn more with each year of experience that you have -- some runs which are longer than others will pay a little more — and as far as advancement, I guess that I'm living proof. I started as a driver 43 years ago -- 24 with Con-way Freights -- and I've had a number of positions in the company.

Advancements in Trucking
Modern-day truck drivers are better than they've ever been. The skill set that you have to have in this industry is basically the same that I had when I started out, but there is technology out there now that helps them do things that I couldn't do 20 years ago that makes for a safer and smarter driver. We've gotten better at how we train and prepare our drivers. It's a totally different industry today. "There's a higher level of professionalism, a deeper commitment by the companies and the drivers towards safety and the health of the driver," Petrancosta says. The highways themselves are safer, the equipment is much better and the technology in the trucks is nothing like what we drivers had even 10 years ago.

How to Start A Career in Truck Driving?

A career as a truck driver can be very demanding, but can offer substantial pay depending on the type of truck you drive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pay for truck drivers varies greatly but increases with seniority, experience, and the type and size of truck driven. Generally, long-haul trips are more demanding on the drivers; therefore they pay better and offer bonuses. Truck drivers must posses a commercial driver's license (CDL). To be able to operate a commercial truck, an individual must adhere to the state and federal regulations.