Being a truck driver is both good and bad. Most truck drivers will tell you that you can’t be in the business unless you genuinely love driving a truck on very long drives. When pushed, they’ll even say that you have to love truck driving as a hobby or you’ll quit before long. They’re not just boasting, they’re actually being quite realistic – and the reality is, to make it in the truck driving industry, you’ll have to bend the rules.
The Hard Part Isn’t Driving the Truck
After getting a CDL and becoming accustomed to the nuances of parking and driving a truck, the driving component of the job becomes like second nature. The hardships of driving a truck are what you have to deal with to drive the truck.
A truck driver’s typical day isn’t just getting up for work, getting to the truck, driving the truck around for the day, then returning home at night. He has to get up sometimes as early as 5 a.m., then rush to pick up the truck because he needs to beat the rush hour traffic to get the delivery in on time. But the delivery may be many states away, which means having to sleep overnight at a hotel. But given that you’re going to be sleeping overnight quite often on the job, you’ll probably opt for a cheaper place to hole up for the night.
Then when you finally get back home, you’ll have to set off on the road again the next day for another cycle of cheap motels, cheap fast food, and long drives. Surely one road trip would tire you out — can you really stand to do that for a living?
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more difficulties surrounding truck driving for a living and how truck drivers deal with them in risky ways:
1. Employers Won’t Pay for Your Gas
You’ve seen the truck driver hiring ads. They promise to pay you $4,000 or more weekly. Heck, that’s $16,000 a month! But when something sounds too good to be true, there’s a catch somewhere. And the catch here is – your employer won’t pay for the gas you burn on those long hauls.
Your average big rig gets about six miles per gallon. Average pay would be $4 per mile. You’d have to drive 4,000 miles a week to get $4,000. Now, if you’re driving 4,000 miles, you’re burning 667 gallons, which costs about $2,000 depending on the price of gas. Suddenly you’re now making only $2,000 out of $4,000 per week!
And that doesn’t even include food and lodging costs. After those out-of-pocket expenses, you’re looking at only $68,400 a year or less.
But the out-of-pocket fuel costs are really what take a cut from your income. It’s estimated that 25 percent of truck driving operational costs comes solely from buying gas!
To counteract these costs, truck drivers may engage in risky behaviors, like bringing thousands of dollars in cash with them during long hauls. Why? Because some gas stations offer a significant discount if you pay in cash (to save from the two to three percent card processing fee). When you’re driving a big rig, you’re parking options are limited and so it’s not always possible to stop at an ATM of your bank’s branch. (And it’s a waste of precious time) And the ATMs at truck stops and gas stations would charge a withdrawal fee if they’re not your bank’s.
So, truck drivers resort to carrying loads of cash with them while on the job. This is risky for obvious reasons.
2. They Won’t Pay for Your Trip Home
The fine print matters the most because that’s where people hide the catch to a seemingly good deal. Would you really agree to a truck driving job if they won’t pay for your trip back home? It makes sense on their part – you’re driving their truck. They’d rather not waste their truck’s wear and tear on getting you back home unless you’re carrying a shipment with you.
At first you might not think this is that big of a deal. But imagine this – you picked up a haul from New Jersey and drove it all the way to California. You have another haul lined up in two days. That means you’ll have to fly back home to NJ, and that plane ticket could cost between $120 to $400 dollars. Throw in the cost of lodging before the flight and taxi service and you’re looking at a significant expense just to get back home after a job!
Some truck drivers try to skimp on the trip back by not booking a room before the flight. Some may even attempt to drive home with a company car or rental without stopping to sleep just to save on lodging. All of these risky behaviors done just to keep the return trip expenses to a minimum.
3. Truck Dispatchers Assign Unreasonable Requests Everyday
Truck dispatchers coordinate a company’s hired trucks to ensure everyone’s getting to where they need to be without any mix-ups or delays – they keep distribution and hauling running smoothly. At least, that’s the idea behind truck dispatchers. In reality, they’re one of the most hated by truck drivers.
Truck drivers often complain that dispatchers assign them a job then suddenly change their route such that it’s impossible to arrive at the new destination within the allotted time. They’ve also been known to tell truck drivers that they were supposed to be at a location a couple of hours ago even though that’s the first they’ve heard of it.
Dispatchers often make truck drivers work past their working hours because they’re forced to drive longer to get their haul in on time.
Worse, dispatchers also control a truck driver’s future at a company. If a truck driver doesn’t meet the demands of a dispatcher more than once, then that dispatcher will start assigning him only the less desired jobs.
There may be favoritism where dispatchers only give the big money hauls to certain drivers, and there may be in-fighting between dispatcher chain of command that leaves truck drivers taking the fall and they end up not getting back home for the weekend.
On the flip side, some truck drivers are lazy and the dispatcher gets grumpy when he’s suddenly the truck drivers’ alarm clock, calendar reminder, and GPS. The dispatcher takes some slack when loads aren’t delivered on time, so it’s reasonable he’d err on the side of caution when deciding whether to assign these truck drivers important, high-value loads because he doesn’t want to risk them getting botched.
Whatever the reason, when truck drivers are assigned a difficult schedule involving loads and destinations far apart from each other, they end up doing risky things – like driving without sleeping or going over the speed limit the company has set for them. These risky habits can lead to higher chance of a truck accident.
Before venturing into the truck driving industry, be mindful of the pros and cons! If you don’t love driving a truck for long hours, sleeping in cheap places throughout the country, and sometimes dealing with unfair politics, then this job might not be right for you. Also do your research on potential trucking companies you’d like to join that pay fairly and compensate you for various foreseeable costs.
Most important of all – if you find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place, don’t resort to taking risks!