You've finally done it - you've decided to go to school and learn to be a truck driver. When you make the decision to start driving a truck, you're in for some major life changes. It can be hard to know exactly where to begin, so here are some tips that will get you behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler in no time flat.
Make Sure You Know What You're Doing
Before you invest the time, effort and money to be a truck driver, you need to know if it's really a career you're interested in. Many truck routes may require you to be away from your family, home life, and romantic relationships for days or even weeks at a time. While you may want to be a truck driver in order to get paid high wages, make sure that companies in your area are hiring and that the wages are really enough to live the way you want to.
Go to Truck Driving School
In order to be a truck driver, you'll need to pass an exam for a commercial driver's license. You cannot drive any large commercial vehicle (including a bus or commercial van) without this federally controlled license. The best way to prepare for the skills portion of your CDL test is to attend truck-driving classes at a reputable trucking school. Many of these schools also offer job placement, making it easier for you to get to work fast after passing your class.
Prepare For the CDL Exam
Even if you're feeling good about your skills test, there are still two more hurdles to overcome before you can pass your CDL exam and be a truck driver. The first of these is the written test. Try taking practice exams (books of these exams are available at bookstores and sometimes at your state DMV offices) with strict time limits, so that you can get used to the timing of the test. It’s important to answer all the questions, even the ones where you're not sure of the answer. There are no penalties for guessing, and a good guess could help you to be a truck driver more quickly.
The Physical Examination
You'll also need to show that you are in good physical health and don't have any conditions that could compromise your ability to drive in tough situations. While the medical examination can make some people nervous, it's absolutely necessary if you hope to be a truck driver. The doctor will be looking for medical issues that could affect your ability to drive, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Testing positive doesn’t necessary ruin your chances of passing the medical exam, as long as your condition is sufficiently controlled that it will not affect your ability to be safe on the roads.
You must also take a drug test that will check your blood or urine for cannabis (marijuana), cocaine, opiates, amphetamines (including methamphetamine and prescription amphetamines), and PCP. You cannot be a truck driver if you test positive for any of these drugs.
The Day of the Test
When it's time to take your CDL exam, remember: you can still be a truck driver even if you don't pass the first time. Get plenty of rest and a good meal before your exam, so that you are at your mental and physical peak for your written and skills tests. A few mistakes are normal so don’t worry if your test doesn't go perfectly. Make sure that you bring all required documentation to your CDL test.
If you pay an additional fee, you can take an extra test to obtain a HazMat (hazardous materials) endorsement. This test will look at your knowledge of safety procedures when handling hazardous substances. Anyone who wants to be a truck driver can benefit from this extra endorsement, which opens up additional job opportunities for truckers.
Truck driving can be a rewarding career, and the barriers to entry are low. Probably the most important factor is to understand the life changes that will accompany your new job.