How would an outsider view truck driving when choosing a career?

by Derek Clouthier

In an effort to put the topic of ELDs to bed for at least a month and avoid any further damage to my ego (check out the letter to the editor on page 43), I figured I’d shift the conversation to another major issue facing the industry – the driver shortage.

Now I know just like ELDs this topic has been discussed a lot lately, but I’d like to use this opportunity to encourage Truck West readers to take a few minutes to write me a short letter describing why you love being a truck driver.

One of the biggest issues, I’ve been told, surrounding the driver shortage is that the industry does not do a good job recruiting young people, and for a profession facing a critical shortage in the coming years, it’s essential for that shortfall to turn around.

And what better tool to utilize in the effort to entice the next generation of drivers to get behind the wheel than those who are doing it today and have been for decades?
There are obviously several favorable aspects to being a truck driver, or else why would you choose it as a career?

But as with any job, I’m sure there are some negatives as well. So what are those negatives? What is it about truck driving, or perhaps the industry as a whole, you would like to see changed?

And, is it because of these adverse factors that the industry has had trouble finding new drivers, or does it have nothing to do with the industry at all; maybe it’s just the reality of what today’s younger generation of worker is looking for when it comes to employment.
Let’s look at some positives (and keep in mind, I am not a truck driver, so in essence, what I see as positives and negatives could very well be what those the industry is looking for sees as well):

Freedom – This must be one of the main reasons people get into truck driving. You are on the highway for the majority of the time with nothing but the open road looking over your shoulder.

Travel – Though this facet of the job could get old over time, and not apply to some, depending on the type of routes they drive, being able to see a variety of different locations around North America is definitely a positive aspect to any job; much better than sitting in an office five days a week.

Camaraderie – I can imagine being out on the road, that over time, truck drivers develop a certain amount of fellowship between one another. You are all doing the same job and got into it for similar reasons, and during those moments when you do see each other at a truck stop or elsewhere, it’s great to chat up.

Though you may feel some level of satisfaction knowing you’re responsible for bringing the world’s products to consumers, freedom, travel and camaraderie seem like they would be the Top 3 reasons for getting into trucking.

So what are the negatives?

Salary – I’ve heard conflicting accounts of how much a truck driver makes, which is likely because it varies so greatly depending on location, distance traveled and what you’re driving. Some long-distance haulers can make upwards of $80,000 a year, while the majority who start out make much less, sometimes as low as $20,000.

Away from home – Although this doesn’t matter to some depending on their life situation, it can get difficult being away from home as much as a driver has to be when they have children and/or a significant other wanting to spend more time with them.

This is how a relative outsider would view the world of truck driving when making a career choice. Please write me and let me know your thoughts, where I may have gone wrong and what I may have missed all together.

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  • I was new to the industry this year. I had retired 2.5 years earlier from a provincial government job after 32 years but due to changes in policy, not allowed to return to.

    My experiences may not be like other people who drive transport trucks because I am transgender. I will say I generally was accepted and if not, no one did or said anything to me although I had heard some “horror stories” of someone pulling the 5th wheel pins on unattended tractors (urban legends) because of a grudge. I always rechecked my trailer connection and did a walk around upon my return.

    I got into trucking for a number of reasons and here’s my answers.

    First of all, I really liked the job. If my employer had asked me, I probably would have done it for either free or expenses. I know what with the many associated “start up costs” like safety equipment, GPS (2 of those eventually), having to board my dog before I could take him with me, medical tests, creature comforts like a microwave, TV, abstracts, criminal searches, I don’t think I made 5 cents, if I did, it wasn’t very much money at all.

    I enjoyed the opportunity to travel to places and states I had never been to. I remarked on the scenery in Pennsylvania and how beautiful the colours would be in the fall and I would get paid to see them. Of course, I saw the signs for various attractions and unless I could see it from the highway, I didn’t see many of them and passing look from the highway really doesn’t count, but I enjoy driving. I still felt a “rush” when I climbed into my tractor. Being responsible for that piece of equipment was thrilling and that fact I was living a dream come true from many, many, many years ago didn’t hurt either.

    I learned some “tricks of the trade” from other truck drivers that made my life on the road easier and I was always grateful for them. I’d pass them on to others too.

    On the downside, I was always worried about finding a safe place to shut down for the night. Do I stay where it’s safe or drive some more and have to park on an off ramp and hope someone who is drunk or texting doesn’t run into me at night? Personal safety although not right up at the top of the list was at times a concern, especially in the southern US where I wasn’t always made to feel welcome.

    As a new driver, I think it would be good if there could be a place on the trailer for a sign so others to see that the driver of the rig has limited experience. Much like L sticker on cars in the UK or the yellow “rookie stripe” in NASCAR racing. The hazmat holder is ideal for that and it’s cheap.

    Money wise, I know a friend who is paid hourly. He likes it because he knows how much his base salary is. Being paid by the mile at varying rates, I never knew what I was bringing in and being stopped in a traffic jam or sitting at a customer’s waiting to load/unload means no money but the clock is ticking on my day.

    Being away from home for 7 days or more was not a concern to me as I live alone, others with a family might see that as a serious issue.

    As a new driver, I was cautious but I was let go over a couple of small incidents that probably totalled less than $15.00 in damage. Although I had learned from them, I took remedial action on my own for which I paid for out of my pocket to improve myself, it made no difference. I had been suspended with no pay for a day which means I lost my next run, lost my safety bonus which more than paid for the repairs, taken off of my highway runs and eventually dismissed 2 days later.

    Harsh punishment for something small , yes, but fair I suppose, up until I was let go and not given an opportunity to show I had learned anything. I told them their top driver could leave the yard and possibly run someone down so letting me go based upon what might happen was not at all reasonable. It fell on deaf ears and no compromise could be worked out even extending my probationary time by a month. Anything else happens, out I go and no complaint from me.

    I had worked very hard to get that job. I paid for all of my schooling myself and everything else out of my own pocket as I was not eligible for any assistance from unemployment retraining as some were or from Veteran’s Affairs as I was not injured during my military service.

    Now I am back to square 1 looking for work and again spending money to go through the whole abstract, criminal search and medical testing again and hoping someone will take me on down the road.

    Why am I doing this? Because I enjoyed the work so much in spite of all the drawbacks.

  • Driving truck with a descent equipment and also working for a safety minded company is a charm.
    This driving became my second career after having going almost every where in the world due to the fact I did 10 years with DND and many more years as a Marine Engineer on deep sea going ship to finally work on drill ship up in the Beaufort sea Canadian Arctic to finally end up on land into Alberta, there is no water or no great sea per say so I had to redirect my work towards what would make sense for me to do so I decided to drive trucks.
    Instead of seeing the world true a port hole now am looking at it true a windshield.
    Although being in my late 60’s am still going trucking just for a change of routine keep me young, I have been in the field since 1994 and now doing it for pleasure .
    The pay as got a bit better but not so much and if I was a kid wanting to do this job i would certainly love to be on some on job training and after being at it for a reasonable time have the ok to go on my own.
    The business have changed a lot since the 90’s and got a little better but still it is getting more expensive to get a cross border driving job due to the money exchange rate, and the different regulations and paperwork to be filled right, or it become very expensive, the no cover….. life or medical insurance by the transport company… make it that you are on your own out into a different country where you have no rights.
    So companies that want to hire prime class drivers they have to have prime class reputation into DOT Canadian or USA than the kid should consider trying to make a living. with the inconvenience of being without friends, family presence, and girlfriend as well.
    The roads are getting more and more dangerous these days and I could testify to that I am still trying to find out how I managed to avoid a head on collision on a tiny highway out in Montana Yellowstone park. situation… a pick up truck decide to pass a south bound semi and i am going North bound onto my lane and any how the pick up truck decided to pass going up hill and me down hill I was sure after all effort to miss the pick up it would hit me on my side and some how no accident and a lot of frustrations.
    So to say it is one of the most dangerous job on land and drivers have to be sobers and completely rested to do that kind of work.