Whether drivers haul construction items or farm produce, the role of truck drivers is crucial because they are responsible for moving nearly 70% of freight in the United States.

The average age of commercial truck drivers is typically mid-to-late 40s, which means there are a lot of drivers near retirement age – which also means there’s lots of opportunity for new drivers.  

However, you can’t start too early. Some states will allow 18-year-olds to obtain a required commercial driver license( CDL) with in-state-only driving restrictions; full commercial driving privileges begin at age 21 in most states.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 average annual pay for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers is $48,310, or $23.23 per hour. Salaries for entry-level truck drivers may drive that average down, but experienced drivers can easily earn up to $70,000 per year or more.

Typical requirements for a commercial driver’s license include:

  • Age: 21 (some states allow 18-year-olds for intrastate driving)
  • Must have a non-commercial driver license
  • One to two years driving experience, this varies by state
  • Proof of citizenship and residency, like a birth certificate or green card
  • A high school diploma or GED is preferred
  • Must obtain a Medical Examiner Certificate from state dept. of transportation, which typically involves a physical 
  • Pass all required background checks

Individuals must also determine which type of vehicle and what kind of commercial license they want to acquire. There are three classes of Commercial Driver’s License.  

– A Class C commercial driver’s license is required to operate a vehicle that is designed to transport 16 or more occupants (including you, the driver) or transport materials that are classified as hazardous under federal law. 

– A Class B license is required to operate a single vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds, or tow a vehicle not heavier NOT HEAVIER than 10,000 pounds. A Class B CDL is good for the following vehicles:  

Straight trucks 

Large passenger buses 

Segmented buses 

Box trucks 

Dump trucks with small trailers 

Tractor-trailers 

– A Class A commercial driver’s license is required to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds, provided the towed vehicle IS HEAVIER than 10,000 pounds. A Class A CDL is good for the following vehicles: 

Tractor-trailers 

Truck and trailer combinations 

Tank vehicles

Livestock carriers 

Flatbeds 

In addition, endorsements for CDLs are essential for driving certain vehicles.

For example, a P (Passenger) endorsement is needed to transport 16 or more passengers and the H (Hazardous) endorsement is required to drive trucks with hazardous material like flammable liquids or radioactive substances. 

No matter the license class, a written knowledge test must be taken and passed, along with a driving skills test. Student drivers are required to secure a commercial learner’s permit before they begin the behind-the-wheel portion of their truck-driver training.  

Effective February 2022, anyone in any state in America is required to complete an Entry Level Driver Training Course to get their CDL license.  On average, CDL training takes three to four weeks in both Kansas and Missouri, with the average cost of CDL training ranging from $3,000 to $7,000. Tuition assistance and scholarships are available at most schools. 

No degree is required to work in the truck-driving industry.

Benefits

Many companies offer benefits for truck drivers, including health, dental, vision and life insurance. That insurance can also include coverage for the driver’s family.

Truck drivers can enjoy traveling and scenic views like oceans or mountains. Drivers can embrace the freedom of being away from the watchful eyes of management and owners. If that’s not enough inspiration, some drivers can create their own work and route schedules.

Derek Dean,self-employed driver and owner of Dad Express trucking company, said financial freedom and independence inspired him to be a part of the truck-driving business. 

“I feel like I’m more motivated to know I’m growing my own business, versus working under someone else’s business,” said Dean, who enjoys delivering products to people and bringing them on time.

Regardless of Dean’s passion for truck driving, he still recognizes the business isn’t without challenges, like traffic, miscommunication and delays with deliveries.

A few tips Dean offers those interested in the career: do your homework, be cautious when driving, don’t rush to work in the industry, take your time to become well-trained. 

“Safety comes first no matter what the load pays. If you don’t get there safely, it’s going to cost you,” Dean said. “Never stop educating yourself, continue to learn and perfect your craft.”

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Simone Garza

Simone Garza is a reporter in our Kansas City office. In addition to general reporting on Kansas City’s African-American community, she reports on economic inclusion for the African American community....