Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Summary

heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers image
Truck drivers transport goods around the country.
Quick Facts: Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers
2012 Median Pay $38,200 per year
$18.37 per hour
Entry-Level Education Postsecondary non-degree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 1,701,500
Job Outlook, 2012-22 11% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 192,600

What Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers Do

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Most tractor-trailer drivers are long-haul drivers and operate trucks whose gross vehicle weight (GVW) capacity—that is, the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo—exceeds 26,000 pounds. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes, sometimes spanning several states.

Work Environment

Working as a long-haul truck driver is a major lifestyle choice because these drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time.

How to Become a Heavy or Tractor-trailer Truck Driver

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and attend a professional truck-driving school. They must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Pay

The median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $38,200 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average of all occupations. As the economy grows, the demand for goods will increase, and more truck drivers will be needed to keep supply chains moving.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers Do

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers plan their own routes.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Most tractor-trailer drivers are long-haul drivers and operate trucks with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) capacity of more than 26,000 pounds. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes, sometimes spanning several states.

Duties

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers typically do the following:

  • Drive long distances
  • Report to a dispatcher any incidents encountered on the road
  • Follow all applicable traffic laws
  • Inspect their trailer before and after the trip, and record any defects they find
  • Keep a log of their activities
  • Report serious mechanical problems to the appropriate personnel
  • Keep their truck and associated equipment clean and in good working order

Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers plan their own routes. They may use satellite tracking to help them plan.

Before leaving, a driver usually is told a delivery location and time, but it is up to the driver to determine how to get the cargo there.

A driver must know which roads allow trucks and which do not. Drivers also must plan legally required rest periods into their trip. Some drivers have one or two routes that they drive regularly, and others drivers take many different routes throughout the country. Also, some drivers have routes that include Mexico or Canada.

Companies sometimes use two drivers, known as teams, on long runs to minimize downtime. On these team runs, one driver sleeps in a berth behind the cab while the other drives.

Some heavy truck drivers transport hazardous materials, such as chemical waste, and so have to take special precautions when driving. Also, these drivers normally carry specialized safety equipment in case of an accident. Other drivers, such as those carrying liquids, oversized loads, or cars, must follow rules that apply specifically to them.

Some long-haul truck drivers, called owner-operators, buy or lease trucks and go into business for themselves. They then have business tasks, including finding and keeping clients and doing administrative work such as accounting, in addition to their driving tasks.

Work Environment

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
Some truck drivers travel far from home and can be on the road for long periods at a time.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers held about 1.7 million jobs in 2012.

Many heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are employed in general freight trucking. The industries that employed the most truck drivers in 2012 were as follows:

General freight trucking34%
Specialized freight trucking13
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods8

Working as a long-haul truck driver is a major lifestyle choice because these drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time. They spend much of this time alone. Truck driving can be a physically demanding job as well. Driving for many hours in a row can be tiring, and some drivers must load and unload cargo.

Injuries and Illnesses

Because of the potential for traffic accidents, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers have one of the highest rates of injury and illnesses of all occupations. 

Work Schedules

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the hours that a long-haul truck driver may work. Drivers may not work more than 14 straight hours comprising up to 11 hours spent driving and the remaining time spent doing other work, such as unloading cargo. Between working periods, drivers must have at least 10 hours off duty. Drivers also are limited to driving no more than 60 hours within 7 days or 70 hours within 8 days; then drivers must take 34 hours off before starting another 7- or 8-day run. Drivers must record their hours in a logbook. Truck drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Heavy or Tractor-trailer Truck Driver

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
Drivers learn the federal laws and regulations governing interstate trucking.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and attend a professional truck driving school. They must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Education

Most companies require their truck drivers to have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Many companies require drivers to attend professional truck-driving schools, where they take training courses to learn how to maneuver large vehicles on highways or through crowded streets. During these classes, drivers also learn the federal laws and regulations governing interstate truck driving. Students attend either a private truck-driving school or a program at a community college that lasts between 3 and 6 months.

Upon finishing these classes, drivers receive a certificate of completion.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering requiring all newly hired interstate truck drivers to take a truck-driving course.

The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) certifies a small percentage of driver-training courses at truck-driver training schools that meet both the industry standards and the U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines for training tractor-trailer drivers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All long-haul truck drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Qualifications for obtaining a CDL vary by state but generally include passing both a knowledge test and a driving test. States have the right to refuse to issue a CDL to anyone who has had a CDL suspended by another state.

Drivers can get endorsements to their CDL that show their ability to drive a specialized type of vehicle. Truck drivers transporting hazardous materials (HAZMAT) must have a hazardous materials endorsement (H). Getting this endorsement requires an additional knowledge test and a background check.

Federal regulations require random testing of on-duty truck drivers for drug or alcohol abuse. In addition, truck drivers can have their CDL suspended if they are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or are convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle.

Other actions can result in a suspension after multiple violations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website has a list of these violations. Additionally, some companies have stricter standards than what federal regulations require.

Training

After completing truck driving school and being hired by a company, drivers normally receive between 1 and 3 months of on-the-job training. During this time, they drive a truck with a more experienced mentor-driver in the passenger seat. This period of on-the-job training is to learn more about the specific type of truck they will drive and material they will be transporting.

Important Qualities

Hand-eye coordination. Drivers of heavy trucks and tractor-trailers must be able to coordinate their legs, hands, and eyes simultaneously so that the driver reacts appropriately to the situation around them and drives the vehicle safely.

Hearing ability. Truck drivers need good hearing. Federal regulations require that a driver be able to hear a forced whisper in one ear at 5 feet (with or without the use of a hearing aid).

Physical health. Federal regulations do not allow people to become truck drivers if they have a medical condition that may interfere with their ability to operate a truck, such as high blood pressure or epilepsy. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website has a full list of medical conditions that disqualify someone from driving a long-haul truck.

Visual ability. Truck drivers must be able to pass vision tests. Federal regulations require a driver to have at least 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in each eye and the ability to distinguish the colors on a traffic light.

Pay

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

$38,200

Total, all occupations

$34,750

Motor vehicle operators

$32,800

 

The median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $38,200 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than the amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,110, and the top 10 percent earned more than $58,910.  

In May 2012, the median annual wages for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers in the top three industries in which these drivers worked were as follows:

General freight trucking$40,360
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods39,630
Specialized freight trucking37,710

Drivers of heavy trucks and tractor-trailers are usually paid by how many miles they have driven, plus bonuses. The per-mile rate varies from employer to employer and may depend on the type of cargo and the experience of the driver. Some long-distance drivers, especially owner-operators, are paid a share of the revenue from shipping.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the hours that a long-haul truck driver may work. Drivers may not work more than 14 straight hours comprising up to 11 hours spent driving and the remaining time spent doing other work, such as unloading cargo. Between working periods, drivers must have at least 10 hours off duty. Drivers also are limited to driving no more than 60 hours within 7 days or 70 hours within 8 days; then drivers must take 34 hours off before starting another 7- or 8-day run. Drivers must record their hours in a logbook. Truck drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

11%

Total, all occupations

11%

Motor vehicle operators

9%

 

Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average of all occupations.

As the economy grows, the demand for goods will increase, and more truck drivers will be needed to keep supply chains moving. Trucks transport most of the freight in the United States, so as households and businesses increase their spending, the trucking industry will grow.

As fuel prices rise, some companies may switch their shipping to rail to lower costs. However, rail is unlikely to take much market share away from trucks, because even with high diesel prices for truck fuel, trucks are more efficient for short distances. Additionally, many products need to be delivered within the short time frame that only trucks can operate in.

Demand for truck drivers is expected to increase in oil and gas industries as more drivers become needed to transport materials to and from mining sites.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers with the proper training are projected to be favorable. Because of truck drivers’ difficult lifestyle and time spent away from home, many companies have trouble finding and retaining qualified long-haul drivers.

Employment projections data for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

53-3032 1,701,500 1,894,100 11 192,600 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Bus drivers

Bus Drivers

Bus drivers transport people between various places—including work, school, and shopping malls—and across state or national borders. Some drive regular routes, and others transport passengers on chartered trips or sightseeing tours.

High school diploma or equivalent $29,550
Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers

Delivery Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Workers

Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers pick up, transport, and drop off packages and small shipments within a local region or urban area. They drive trucks with a gross vehicle weight (GVW)—the combined weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo—of 26,000 pounds or less. Most of the time, delivery truck drivers transport merchandise from a distribution center to businesses and households.

High school diploma or equivalent $27,530
Laborers and material movers

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Hand laborers and material movers transport objects without using machines. Some workers move freight, stock, or other materials around in storage facilities; others clean vehicles; some pick up unwanted household goods; and still others pack materials for moving.

Less than high school $22,970
Material recording clerks

Material Recording Clerks

Material recording clerks keep track of information in order to keep businesses and supply chains on schedule. They ensure proper scheduling, recordkeeping, and inventory control.

See How to Become One $24,810
Train engineers and operators

Railroad Occupations

Workers in railroad occupations ensure that passenger and freight trains run on time and travel safely. Some workers drive trains, some coordinate the activities of the trains, while others operate signals and switches in the rail yard.

High school diploma or equivalent $52,400
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs

Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs

Taxi drivers and chauffeurs drive people to and from the places they need to go, such as airports, homes, shopping centers, and workplaces. They must know their way around a city in order to take both residents and visitors to their destinations.

Less than high school $22,820
Water transportation occupations

Water Transportation Occupations

Workers in water transportation occupations operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water. These vessels travel to and from foreign ports across the ocean, to domestic ports along the coasts, across the Great Lakes, and along the country’s many inland waterways.

See How to Become One $48,980
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/heavy-and-tractor-trailer-truck-drivers.htm (visited July 22, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014