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How to get on the road as a truck driver making six figures

Osama Siddique

June 20, 2023

If driving the open road sounds like how you would like to spend your days – and even nights – you might consider becoming a truck driver.

But you need more than a driver’s license if you want to haul freight with a big rig. You need to know how to handle a large truck that may have more than four wheels as well as understand the trucking business.

The time and training necessary is worth it: By becoming a truck driver, you’re moving the goods that people need to live – just about everything people buy has been carried by a truck.

Many moving parts

Driving down the road is the most straightforward part of the trucking business, but there’s more to it when you’re picking up and delivering freight.

A truck driver’s route doesn’t exist without logistics companies, shipping and receiving departments, and factories and warehouses, as well as all the people that comprise the supply chain so that there’s freight to haul. Without dispatchers, mechanics, forklift drivers, and trucking company owners, goods don’t make it on to the back of the truck.

Truck drivers must be focused and skilled. The better the training, the less stress, and more enjoyment you’ll have on the road.

There are many other responsibilities aside from driving:

  • Planning the safest and most efficient route
  • Getting you truck ready for a long trip that may span several days and could even be part of a convoy
  • Regular inspection of your vehicle and even troubleshooting defects and repairs with mechanics
  • Navigating your heavy multi-wheel tractor-trailer from destination to destination, including reversing into parking spaces – one of the more technically challenging aspects of the job
  • Assisting others in freight loading and unloading or directing those who are doing it, including forklift operators
  • Securing your load
  • Being prepared to pass through various border points and filling out documentation
  • Performing minor roadside repairs under the guidance of a mechanic or safety supervisor
  • Communicating with other drivers, dispatchers, and customers

You must also prepare yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally for the challenges that come with driving a truck, including other drivers on the road who may be driving unsafely or distractedly, waiting around at customer locations, collisions and accidents, construction, bad weather, and ultimately, delays getting back home.

Different drivers for different trucks

The truck you drive makes a difference because there are different kinds of commercial vehicles. You may end up driving a dump truck, a flatbed truck, logging truck, moving van, shunt truck or tow truck.

If you’re hauling freight, there’s a good chance you’ll be driving a full-length tractor-trailer, with or without sleeper cab, that’s as long as 22.5 metres (or 74 feet). You’ll be known as a transport truck driver, long haul truck driver, professional driver, big rig driver, semi-truck driver, or tractor-trailer driver.

It’s important that you think about type of truck driving role you’d like, so you know what training and certification you’ll need. You’ll need additional documentation if you’re going to be transporting hazardous goods, for example.

Learning to be a truck driver

Having a driver’s license is just the beginning of your journey to becoming a truck driver – and it must be a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Your truck driver’s license must be valid in your home province. Getting it requires that you be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or the equivalent, have taken driving lessons, hold a valid full provincial driver’s license, pass a vision test, and submit a valid medical report. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Truck Handbook is a great primer to help you understand everything you need, and the Canada Job Bank has an overview and directory of the varying Truck Driver licensing requirements by province.

You must also pass a knowledge test on operating large trucks and tractor-trailers, as well as a road test using a vehicle that meets the requirements for a Class A license. Not only do you need to be trained to drive a truck, but you must also get your air brake endorsement if you will be driving a truck that has them – it’s the ‘Z’ component of the ‘AZ’ license. You’ll need an AZ License (Ontario) or Class 1 License (outside of Ontario). There’s no shortage of options for training – there are truck driving schools across Canada that can prepare you for all aspects of being a truck driver across the country.

Your first employer will also expect you to have a clean driving record, present your CDL and complete a company road test. You may also need to do additional training at a lower rate of pay.

What you can expect to make

If you’re wondering if becoming a truck driver is worth it, keep in mind there’s a shortage of truck drivers, so you can make a good living. Even with just a few years of experience you can earn upwards of $80,000 to more than $100,000.

The highest paying truck driver jobs tend to be specialized, such as ice road drivers, oversized load drivers, specialty vehicle haulers, team drivers, private fleet drivers, mining industry drivers, liquid and tanker drivers, and Hazmat drivers. All require several years of experience as well as additional training and certification.

Truck drivers who earn the most are owner operators – they own their trucks and are responsible for all maintenance and upkeep. This means they’re bearing more risk, but it also means they can enjoy the highest rewards.

No matter what kind of truck you choose to drive, if you’re hauling freight, you’re delivering something someone needs somewhere – it’s a rewarding way to spend your days.

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