Take a moment and think, what is one industry that has been behind the success of every other business in the world? That’s right, the trucking industry.
There’s no denying that the profession of trucking has and continues to be one of the largest contributors to the American economy. Without it, millions of hardworking individuals would be without a job, and other businesses, like Amazon and Walmart, would collapse due to limited resources and the inability to ship. Different vital industries like construction, oil and gas, and automotive would also suffer greatly without trucking. And without the success of these enterprises, America’s economic infrastructure would ultimately give way.
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So you see, truck drivers indeed are the backbone of our society, the oil that keeps the machine running smoothly, if you will. Fortunately, the essential occupation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, making it one of the most secure jobs in the world. The only thing left to do is pick the type of driver you would like to be. No pressure.
What are the Different Types of Truck Drivers?
Built differently than traditional tractor-trailers, flatbed trucks typically require additional training or education to execute safe and effective operations. On top of that, their drivers must thoroughly understand what they will be hauling and how to secure it properly since flatbed loads must be secured differently from tractor-trailer cargo. Typical freight includes vehicles, military vehicles, oversized freight, and oddly shaped cargo that doesn’t fit well on other truck types. Fortunately, since flatbed trucking is more demanding, it typically offers higher pay than different driving positions.
Dry van trucking is an excellent position for those entering the occupation with minimal experience. These drivers are typically responsible for single trailer rigs that contain items like non-perishables and dry goods. A bonus for this title is that drivers are often not accountable for unloading upon arrival.
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If dry goods aren’t your thing, you may be interested in becoming a tanker. Tankers primarily transport a variety of liquids, including gasoline, chemicals, and even milk. However, there are times that tankers will also be responsible for hauling dry products like cement or sugar. But in some cases, these drivers could also be dealing with highly explosive chemicals and gases. Since moving this delicate cargo can be, in some ways, dangerous, special training is required before starting this job.
Otherwise known as commercial truckers, freight haulers specialize in moving cargo that does not fit into a specified category like reefers and tankers. These drivers need to be flexible and good with change.
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Refrigerated freight truckers have a pretty strenuous position. They are responsible for hauling loads that need to be kept at specific temperatures, like food, meats, highly perishable goods, medical products, and body products. That all being said, it’s crucial that reefer drivers know how to regulate the trucks’ temperatures, monitor for fluctuations, and adequately store freight for best refrigeration and temperature stability. Like flatbed drivers, reefers are often paid more than other types of drivers due to the amount of responsibility they are charged with.
Local, regional, and OTR drivers are labeled or defined by the mileage they acquire. While local drivers only haul within a city, regional drivers often move freight throughout an entire state or metropolitan area. For OTR drivers, they have the potential to be given routes across the United States.
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Auto haulers, are given special trailers that can hold an abundance of various automobiles. Where they are taking these automobiles varies. Drivers may be transporting from auctions, local vehicle lots, or ports; you name it. With tens of thousands of dollars on the line, you better believe this job comes with a more than fair wage.
The typical hazardous materials driver will haul fuel, compressed gas, chemicals, waste, and other flammable/combustible materials. It’s crucial for drivers to be knowledgeable about the contents they’re hauling and how to handle them safely in the event of an emergency. To ensure everyone’s safety, special training, certifications, and/or permits will be required.
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LTL, or Less Than Truckload, drivers move smaller freight and don’t need to go as far as standard shipments. With their cargo being on the smaller side, they will typically have multiple stops to make in one day and are generally responsible for unloading their own freight.
The trailers that sit close to the pavement and the truckers who drive them are low boys. These rigs sit lower to accommodate taller equipment or cargo and provide stability with a lower center of gravity. In most cases, these trailers are hauling overly large freight, like manufactured homes, construction equipment, etc. However, these low boys don’t fly solo. They often are escorted by vehicles with flashing lights and signs that read something like ‘Caution’ or ‘Oversized Load.’
Which Type of Truck Driver Should I Choose?
It’s clear that trucking is not only a high-demand profession, but it is a career that offers flexibility, the opportunity to travel, and the chance to meet and develop camaraderie with fellow drivers. Regardless of your age, gender, or educational background, your chances of achieving success are just as probable as the next. Best of all, the variety of job titles allows you to choose an occupation that best suits your life.
Before deciding, you’ll want to consider personal factors such as your location, risk tolerance, situation, and experience. For example, if you’re new to the industry, you won’t want to dive headfirst into something like transporting hazardous materials. There is a great likelihood that you will hold multiple positions with various skill requirements throughout your career. So, use this list as a guide to discover where to start or where to go next.
Want to know how much truck drivers make? Download our infographic!
This past year came with several challenges and transformed the shipping industry in more ways than one. Since July, truckload rates are up 40-50% and rising due to retailers’ attempts to restock their inventory to meet the heightened demand. With these businesses reopening and the need for shipping at an all-time high, now is the perfect time for truckers to find multiple offers for work.
However, despite the wealth of opportunities for drivers, many companies are experiencing high turnover rates. Not only that, but the industry is facing a driver shortage that many professionals feared at the start of the pandemic. While these scenarios don’t seem ideal for operators, there are ways to ensure driver retention. Here are some best practices for retaining your best drivers.
→ Finding the fix for the national driver shortage
1. Invest in your drivers.
In most industries, having the best equipment and supplies is essential to running a successful business and retaining employees. Inadequate equipment and low maintenance are significant reasons why many truckers are abandoning their fleets and employers.
It’s proven that when companies provide new equipment and proper maintenance, drivers can work more and, in turn, earn more money. If your goal is to keep your employees on and happy, you may want to consider investing in them and the tools they need to succeed.
The top investments to make include:
- Newer truck models.
- Comfortable seating.
- Auxiliary power units (APUs).
2. Set clear communication standards.
Many would agree that establishing communication standards is key to having a healthy work environment and a functioning team. In the trucking industry, clear and concise communication is invaluable. To improve retention and team-building, opt for two-way communication with direct channels and consider instilling committees to handle any feedback or peer input to allow for internal cohesion. Over time, you will see improved efficiency and excellent communication skills.
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3. Offer competitive pay.
Possibly the most obvious way to retain your drivers is through competitive pay. Many owners and operators found pay to be the single factor that drives retention downward. Try offering pay based on a guaranteed minimum mile per week versus the non-reliable high pay per mile. A set mileage will provide your drivers with more stability and keep them happy and willing to do their job. You should also consider offering health insurance packages and/or retirement plans, depending on the size of your fleet. The more you can contribute financially; the more inclined your drivers are to maintain their loyalty.
4. Prioritize health.
Approximately 50% of drivers consider their health one of their top three concerns when considering joining a new fleet. That being said, it’s essential to promote good health by equipping all trucks with functional exercise equipment, offering wellness programs that encourage healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle, and scheduling free health screenings for all drivers. These screenings will ensure optimal health and act as preventative care that keeps your drivers on the road and out of the doctor’s office.
→ Staying Healthy on the Road
5. Set realistic expectations.
When it comes to any job, transparency and clear expectations are a must; this standard does not change in the transportation industry. Within the first 90 days of employment, drivers will be able to tell if a job is genuinely how it was described, meaning misrepresented positions could lead to higher turnover rates. To avoid this, be upfront with new drivers about the number of miles they can anticipate, compensation, and company culture.
Another way to ensure retention is by instructing recruiters to provide accurate information when finding fleet operators. Instead of paying your recruiters on a “per hire” basis, offer a flat salary to encourage finding the best candidates instead of collecting drivers like bounties.
6. Support your employees.
Lastly, be sure to reward your drivers’ performances. Offering support and encouragement may seem fickle, but it can be the difference between a semi-operational and fully operational fleet. Experts have gathered that a 10% raise could cure the current driver shortage, although many drivers say that a simple show of appreciation could hold the same power as a raise or promotion.
It’s true, a supportive company culture can lead to excellence through and through. Instruct your fleet managers to monitor your drivers’ key performance indicators or KPIs and their performance through data-driven observations, such as positive customer reviews. You should also consider implementing safe driver programs that reward your fleet operators for minimal idling and safe driving practices.
Are you ready for a hot semi-truck summer? The warm weather is already here in some places, and truckers need to prepare their vehicles for what lies ahead. While most of this information may seem common sense, it serves as a good reminder for even experienced truckers to take proactive steps to prepare for the coming months.
With more than 15 million trucks and 2 million tractor-trailers on the road, owner/operators need to take special care of their equipment at all times. Here are some things truckers should keep in mind this time of year:
1. Do a summer maintenance checkup
Truckers traditionally make preparations for the harsh winter weather, while summer conditions are sometimes overlooked. Hotter temperatures may mean a new set of measurements and calibration to ensure each component is set to work properly.
Colder temperatures compress air within the tires, giving off the impression that the tire pressure is too low. Some drivers will put more air into the tires to account for this change. However, once the weather begins to warm up, the air decompresses and can make tire pressure too high. As temperatures rise, do a tire pressure check to set a new normal.
Battery and Engine
Batteries struggle to work their best in cold weather, so keeping a solid charge during the warmer months is usually not a concern. Truckers should double-check their battery, though, heading into summer to ensure it works properly. Sometimes excessive heat can drain a battery, so monitor its charge regularly. Truckers also need to verify their truck engines stay cool as well. Inspect the truck’s coolant levels and hoses to avoid overheating and replace any suspect parts before they break.
Spending all day in a truck without air conditioning sounds like a nightmare. Check internal cooling systems as summer starts, looking for leaks or cracks in the tubing. Get any parts replaced in order to have a comfortable ride no matter how hot it gets outside.
2. Be ready for emergencies
All experienced owner/operators know to be ready for whatever comes their way. That includes creating an emergency kit that can help when something goes wrong. An emergency kit should include items to help truckers survive and recover whenever an emergency happens.
Some key things to have in an emergency kit:
- Several days of food and water
- Extra clothes
- Cellphone and charger
- Toolbox with tools of varying sizes
- Swiss Army knife
It’s also a good idea to keep a first-aid kit in the truck. Use the beginning of summer as an opportunity to check that everything in the kit is current and replace any items that may have expired.
3. Take care of your health
It is vital that owner/operators take care of their physical and mental health at all times. During the summer months, truckers should wear sunscreen each day, even if they do not plan to spend much time out of the cab. While some truck windows protect from harmful UV light, truckers may often find themselves outside and need that layer of protection.
Truckers should also stay hydrated, drinking water and other healthy drinks while avoiding soda. Staying hydrated will help keep drivers alert while driving and avoid any possible distractions from feeling thirsty or dehydrated.
It’s also important to focus on regulating emotions on the road. The summer typically means more drivers on the road, especially on weekends. This may lead to increased traffic or more inexperienced drivers trying to navigate the increased traffic. Truckers must remember this fact and attempt to stay calm during stressful driving situations.
Preparing for a Busy Year
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to fade away, more and more people this summer are expected to travel. Even with increasing gas prices, there is expected to be a significant amount of traffic on the road as people want to leave their homes after spending much of the past year stuck inside.
Both owner/operators and other truckers must be prepared for this surge and ensure both their trucks and themselves are prepared for what comes ahead. For many truck drivers, the summer season may be seen as a respite from the snowy and icy conditions of winter. Summer brings its own challenges, but by taking the steps mentioned above, they can feel prepared and ready to take on the coming months.
Why it’s important to choose the right tires for your semi-truck
Every trucker has heard it a million times: The tires are the only part of the truck touching the road, so take care of them at all times. This advice has become so commonplace that it likely gets overlooked among the wide range of safety and performance checks drivers make each day before hitting the road.
It is imperative, though, that truckers ensure their tires work at peak performance at all times. A damaged tire presents an immediate safety concern for the driver and other motorists on the road. Let’s take a minute and look at what truck drivers should look for in their tires and the best ways to maintain them for safety and efficiency.
How to Pick the Correct Tires for Your Truck
The best tires for each driver depend on the type of truck piloted and the driver’s typical routes. Advances in tire technology continue to provide benefits, but even then, truck drivers may not be comfortable with some of the performance or cost tradeoffs that happen.
The traditional dual tire structure remains the most popular, but wide-based low-resistance tires continue to grow in popularity. As their name suggests, these tires provide less resistance than traditional tires, offering drivers improved gas mileage. When the price of diesel fuel is low, these types of tires are used less, as they need to be replaced more often; however, when the price of fuel climbs above $4 per gallon, they may become more cost-efficient over time.
How to Take Care of Your Truck Tires
No matter what type of tires you use, it is vital they work properly. Here are some tire maintenance checks all drivers should regularly make.
- Check air pressure.
Over- or under-inflated tires can reduce the performance of a truck and alter how it drives or reacts in an emergency. Drivers should manually check their air pressure before every trip to ensure it meets the manufacturer-designated standards. Larger fleets should consider using tire pressure monitoring systems (TMPS) and continuous tire inflation systems (CTIS) on trailers. While they bring an added cost, these systems ensure tire pressure remains safe and consistent.
- Check tread depth.
Along with air pressure, the depth of tire treads should be checked before every trip. The standard way is to put a penny with Lincoln upside down between the treads. If Lincoln’s face is visible, it is time for a new set.
- Rotate tires.
Based on where they are on a truck, tires can receive uneven wear and tear on the tread. Rotating tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles can help expand their life span. Along with rotating tires, complete a full three-axle wheel alignment as well. While these measures may seem tedious, they go a long way in keeping tires on the road.
- Ensure proper wheel torque.
This is easier than it sounds. Wheel torque is the simple act of adjusting the lug nuts on your wheels. Wheels that are either too tight or too loose can cause damage while driving, so take a few minutes and check each one before you start a trip.
- Practice good habits.
Tires are designed to perform a certain way. Driving too fast, making hard stops, or accelerating too quickly can quicken tire deterioration. Continue to drive in a safe manner that follows all road laws and best practices to protect tires and other valuable equipment.
- Fix problems when they happen.
For busy truckers, it can be easy to neglect small items that need fixing. Too often, these smaller problems grow into larger ones that can increase the cost of repairs. If you notice something is wrong with a tire or any part of your truck, make an effort to fix it as quickly as possible, so it does not turn into a larger problem.
- Stay up to date.
New information about tires and other preventative safety measures constantly change and are continually updated. Even experienced drivers need to ensure they have all the latest training and adhere to new standards and laws when driving. Drivers can never have enough training, so put yourself in a continuous learning state to enjoy long-term success.
Drivers today must work within several standards and regulations to properly operate on the road. This can feel like a lot at times. These steps are important, and taking smart care of your truck and its tires will provide sustainable financial benefits for you and your operation.
An estimated 1 out of every 3 truckers suffers from sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition where a person struggles to breathe as they sleep. This can lead to a host of dangers and medical issues—from feeling distracted and drowsy to heart attack and stroke.
For truck drivers and the companies that employ them, this condition can lead to larger safety concerns. To safely operate their vehicles, truck drivers need to be alert and attentive at all times. Those who drive with sleep apnea symptoms may put themselves or other drivers at increased risk for accidents as the condition can affect focus and reactions, leading to fatigue-related crashes.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition where a person cannot breathe properly while sleeping, causing them to wake up sometimes several hundred times throughout a night. There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is when a person’s brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is when a person’s throat muscles relax as they sleep and collapse, blocking the airway.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CSAS) is a combination of CSA and OSA.
People with sleep apnea may gasp for air as they sleep or snore loudly. Even though they can sleep for a full eight hours, the person will wake to feel exhausted as the constant interruptions impact the quality of their rest.
Sleep apnea can be incredibly dangerous, contributing to conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, morning headaches, difficulty staying asleep, attention problems, irritability, and others. Many times, a person will not know they suffer from sleep apnea unless told of potential symptoms—something that may be difficult for truckers and owner/operators who tend to spend lots of time alone.
Who is at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Anyone can have sleep apnea regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. However, there is a statistical correlation between the size of a person’s neck and their body mass index to sleep apnea sufferers.
People who have a larger neck size or are overweight have a higher chance of suffering from sleep apnea. A sleep study—done either at a sleep lab or in some cases at a person’s home—can help determine if someone suffers from the disorder.
How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?
Once diagnosed, a sleep apnea sufferer may be prescribed one of several treatments. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is typically the most common remedy. This device delivers air pressure through a mask placed over a person’s face that can help keep their airway open.
Other treatment options include a Mandibular Advancement Device, or MAD, which is a custom-designed mouth guard to help keep the throat open. Some sufferers simply sew a tennis ball to the back of their sleeping clothes to stop them from lying on their back.
More severe treatments include surgery or implants, although the most common way to relieve sleep apnea is to lose weight.
What Truckers Need to Know About Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea among truckers has been a concern for more than two decades. Some companies require drivers who meet certain criteria—either for age, body mass index, or neck size—to complete sleep studies to see if they suffer from apnea, although there is no formal regulation.
Some experts, including P. Sean Garney, vice president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, believe formal regulation may happen under the administration of President Joe Biden. One issue for trucking companies is the cost of sleep studies, which can be expensive both for drivers and for companies.
Many organizations have started working with organizations like SleepSafe Drivers, a third-party sleep apnea and fatigue-management service, for coaching and monitoring. With such a high number of drivers at risk for the condition, trucking companies see long-term value in finding ways to help those at risk, even before regulation makes it mandatory.
Even if a driver’s company does not require it, or if they work as an owner/operator, there is a benefit in getting tested for sleep apnea. As mentioned, several potential remedies can help a person feel more awake, alert, and calm during the day, reducing the potential for dangerous accidents. For truckers who spend their workday behind the wheel, they must do so at their full physical and mental capability for their sake and those sharing the road.
Starting out as an owner/operator can be a difficult and complex endeavor. Purchasing the right long-haul vehicle, learning standard practices and procedures of the industry, and understanding how to file your taxes properly are just a few of the challenges rookie truckers face early on in their careers. This means drivers need to be aware of the pitfalls that often plague owner/operators, costing them time, money, or overall safety.
Here are the top three mistakes to avoid as an owner/operator.
1. Thinking It Will Be Easy
The decision to become an owner/operator can be done for a myriad reasons, but one of the worst cited reasons is because “it’s easy.” It’s not. To begin with, CDL training is not like getting a regular driver’s license; there are far more rules and regulations you must adhere to on the road. Furthermore, the training courses can last for up to 12 hours a day, five days a week, for three weeks depending on which state you get your license in. The test at the end of your training course covers general knowledge, combination vehicle types, exterior vehicle inspection, and even a test on air brakes. Drivers must also provide proof they passed a physical health exam or they will not receive their license.
It’s not just the licensing process that is difficult, either. Life on the road for a long-haul driver is tough, logging 11 hour days behind the wheel for days on end. Drivers must be cautious of other motor vehicles around them as well as driving conditions along their route. When stopped for a break, truckers must be cautious when leaving their truck and make sure their load, as well as their personal safety, is intact. Being a long-haul driver is difficult and can be dangerous, but if you maintain safe practices and stay cognizant of your surroundings, you’ll find success.
2. Neglecting Your Health
Another mistake novice drivers make is neglecting their health. The CDC has found that long-haul drivers are at an increased risk of dangerous health issues, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even diabetes. These health issues are usually due to an unhealthy diet combined with an unavoidable sedentary lifestyle. Physical health issues aside, the isolation from being on the road for days—if not weeks—can impact a driver’s mental health and emotional well-being. Long-haul drivers suffer from higher rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Protecting your mental health while on the road is especially difficult since there is a general lack of human connection for the vast majority of your time working. To combat these issues, some drivers perform calisthenic exercises at rest stops to improve their physical health and use hands-free technology to connect with their loved ones while on the road.
3. Ignoring Safety Practices
One of the worst mistakes truckers make is ignoring safety practices. Whether that be forgetting to perform an exterior inspection of the vehicle or driving for longer than the legal limit, ignoring safety practices is a surefire way to put yourself or others in harm’s way. Safety protocols are typically in place for a reason, and in the trucking industry, those reasons are serious. A semi-truck in the United States can have a maximum load weight of 80,000 pounds, which is not to be underestimated; a truck weighing 80,000 pounds traveling at a speed of 2 miles per hour has the same momentum as a 4,000-pound SUV traveling at 40 miles per hour. If a driver fails to perform a vehicle inspection prior to hitting the highway and has a blowout while traveling 70 miles per hour, the results could be cataclysmic.
Safety practices don’t just pertain to the vehicle. Drivers need to follow proper safety protocols when it comes to their rest and health. A tired driver is a dangerous driver, and it only takes a fraction of a second for something to go wrong. At 70 miles per hour, a vehicle travels over 100 feet per second, depending on the weather and road conditions. If an exhausted driver on their sixtieth work hour of the week closes their eyes for just one second, it could mean the difference between life and death for themselves and the people on the road around them.
Being an owner/operator can be an amazing and rewarding career for the right person. You get to travel the country seeing the beautiful landscape and meet new, interesting people in your industry. As you grow your owner/operator career, make sure not to let one of these three big mistakes have a negative impact on your profession or your life. Take your job seriously, protect your health, and follow all of the safety practices put in place. It’s that simple.