Semi Trucker – What Is a Truck Driver?

Many have heard the words semi driver, truck driver, lorry driver, truckie, or simply, driver. They all refer to people who earn a living as the driver of a truck.

To say truck drivers are the backbone of society would not be far off the truth. In fact, truckers transport most of the goods and raw materials over long distances in the country. This includes manufacturing materials, finished products, waste disposal, fuel, food, construction materials, and the list goes on.

You know that saying, “If you bought it, a truck brought it?” There’s a reason why that’s a saying.

Here is what makes a person a truck driver.

Truck Driver Definition

A truck driver is a person who receives a salary transporting goods and materials over land while driving a truck.

Truck drivers provide one of the most essential roles in developed societies by transporting materials and goods over long and short distances.

Just to get a grasp at how important truckers are for modern society, here are three incredible facts about trucking:

  1. 70% of all goods in the US are moved by truckers;
  2. The trucking industry generated $796 Billion in revenue in 2018;
  3. The same year, 11.49 billion tons of freight was moved by truckers.
An infographic containing 20 incredible facts about trucking
20 Incredible Facts About Trucking

What Does a Truck Driver Do?

Usually, truck drivers transport cargo to and from hubs like manufacturing plants, distribution centers, warehouses, and ports. 

There isn’t a defined shift a trucker can have, although they can work for a specific amount of time, as dictated by driving hours regulation (Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations.)

Another important part of the truck driving profession is non-driving duties. These include various things both related to the truck and to the cargo itself, such as:

  • Managing logbooks and documentation,
  • Vehicle inspections,
  • Loading cargo, and
  • Unloading cargo, to name but a few.
A truck driver logbook that has been filled with information
Truck Driver Logbook Example

Being a Truck Driver – The Types of Truck Driving Jobs

Truck driving jobs are segmented in many categories depending on specific criteria, like the type of the freight, length of the route, or whether the driver is driving solo or in teams.

By freight types, trucking jobs are categorized as follows:

  • Bulk cargo (like dry bulk, liquid bulk, and rail-to-truck shipments)
  • Dry Van / Box Truck (the most common trailer type)
  • Flatbed (a flatbed trailer that’s used to transport materials and goods)
  • Hauler (predominantly hauling livestock like farm animals, horses, etc)
  • Intermodal (transportation of shipping containers via railroad-truck or boat-truck)
  • Overdimensional / Big Haul (transportation of oversized cargo)
  • Tanker (transportation of liquid materials in a tanker-trailer)

By the length of the route, trucking jobs are categorized as follows:

  • Local truck driving jobs
  • Regional truck driving jobs
  • Dedicated route truck driving jobs
  • OTR (over-the-road) truck driving jobs

Owner-Operators vs Company Drivers vs Lease Purchase

Other than the type of freight and routes the trucker drives, there is another classification for trucker jobs and truckers in general.

  • Owner-operator: independent business owners who purchase a tractor and contracts to haul loads for a trucking company, or just browse loads on load boards and select the preferable ones. These truckers earn the highest cent-per-mile rates. However, even though they do make more money, they have to cover all expenses revolving around the truck, as well as business expenses. 
  • Company drivers: they are employed within a carrier organization and haul freight with company tractors. They are usually paid per mile (more on pay types below). They usually get paid for off-road work, as well as minimum weekly pay. The company covers most of the expenses around the truck, including fuel costs and tolls/border crossings.
  • Lease purchase driver: same as owner-operators, but the difference is they lease the tractor instead of purchasing it.

Is Being a Truck Driver Hard?

Making money driving a truck is not easy – the working hours are long, drivers usually spend a lot of time away from home, and the nature of the job itself eventually takes a toll on the health of the trucker if they aren’t self-disciplined and exercise frequently.

A Man Exercising with a Resistance Band outdoors
Resistance Band, one of the Best Accessories a Trucker Can Have

There is also the social aspect of the job (or the lack thereof.) Truckers are alone most of their time, so there is the issue of social isolation to add to the laundry list of difficulties a trucker faces daily.

However, if you can look past all of the above – you are in for a job that launches you straight into the middle class.

Is Driving a Semi Difficult?

Driving a semi-truck is not difficult per se, but it still requires the skills to handle the truck, especially in tight spots and during bad weather conditions.

Most of the difficulties of driving a truck will be covered by the mandatory Commercial Drivers License (CDL) school and exams. It is simple really – if you do not learn how to drive the semi, you won’t get the CDL license, which is mandatory for driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV.)

Having said that, it is known most new truckers find it hard to get accustomed to the trailer attached to the vehicle, as well as the fact that manual-transmission semis are very tricky to get used to, and, of course, the truck has a lot of blind spots to keep into mind.

An infographic depicting where the four blind spots of a truck are located
The Blind Spots of a Truck

Is Being a Trucker a Good Job/Career Choice?

Driving a truck, and being good at it, can earn a person a good living. Trucking is one of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs.

Experience plays a key role in being a successful trucker. It is the biggest asset a trucker can have. That and a clean record. If they manage to rack up the experience and keep their record clean, a trucker can earn anything from $60k to six figures.

Entry-level jobs pay well too. A beginner trucker can earn from $20k up to about $40k per year.

The best part is that advancement through the ranks in trucking is pretty fast, so any beginner can make top money with just a couple of years on the road.

“So, what’s the catch,” one might ask. The catch is that driving a truck is very dangerous. Although there are many pros to being a truck driver, there are many cons too.

How Dangerous Is Driving a Semi-Truck?

Driving a semi-truck is very dangerous. A recent study from 2019 by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics puts trucking as the number one most dangerous job in the U.S.

Why Truck Driving Is Dangerous?

There are many dangers related to truck driving. The many hours spent on the road, the subsequent fatigue which can lead to falling asleep while driving. There is also substance abuse, driving while sick, and more. The dangers a trucker can face can be categorized in the following types:

Behind the Wheel Truck Driving Dangers

These include:

  • Driving tired or fatigued, 
  • Distractions, 
  • Not adjusting vehicle speed to follow road conditions, 
  • Not doing frequent vehicle inspections, and 
  • Frequenting high-risk areas.

Out of the Truck Dangers

These include:

  • Not paying attention in parking lots/loading docks,
  • The trucker going under the trailer when hooking/unhooking load,
  • Climbing the roof of the truck,
  • Trying to repair the brakes,
  • Not being careful when climbing/exiting the truck.

Weather Dangers

These include:

  • Heavy snow,
  • Freezing rain and black ice,
  • Hail,
  • Tornados,
  • Strong winds,
  • Foggy weather.

Trucker Lifestyle Dangers – Is Truck Driving Bad for Your Health?

Short answer – yes. Many aspects of trucking are bad for a trucker’s health, including:

  • Exposure to engine noise, UV rays, extreme weather, and vehicle vibrations,
  • Physical injuries from overexertion,
  • Ergonomic injuries, leading to back pain and neck pain,
  • Unhealthy lifestyle leading to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
A trucker's face damaged by prolonged UV exposure
A trucker’s face damaged by prolonged UV exposure

Other Truck Driver Dangers

Some other dangers related to trucking are as follows:

  • Increased levels of stress,
  • Exposure to toxic substances and dust particles,
  • Fire hazards,
  • Explosions.

How Much Do Truck Drivers Make?

Considering all the difficulties of being a truck driver, truckers do get paid good. Across the board, truckers get paid $50k-$60k/year on average.

However, many factors do contribute to whether truckers make good money or not. The state/city they operate in, the type of freight and route they drive. Also, as we mentioned, experience plays a key role here as well.

An infographic containing the average salary of truck drivers for each U.S. state and Washington D.C.
Average Truck Driver Salary per State

How Do Truckers Get Paid?

There are many ways truck drivers get paid. Here are the most common types of truck driver pay:

  • Per Mile Pay (Cents per Mile or CPM) – the industry staple, CPM is the most common type of truck driver pay (although, according to many, not the fairest);
  • Hourly Pay – Getting paid per hour is maybe the most familiar fare of other industries, but for trucking, hourly pay is the dream of many a trucker and rarely seen;
  • Per Diem Pay – per diem pay is a daily allowance issued to truckers to cover some out-of-pocket costs;
  • Pay by the Load – the preferred way of getting paid for owner-operators and veteran drivers. In a nutshell, the driver gets paid between 85-90 percent of the line haul. Other compensations include fuel surcharges and fees for extra pickups and drops. Furthermore, drivers can get compensated for securing the load and tarping (in flatbeds.) 
  • Stop Pay – some trucking jobs include stop pay (usually for loads that require multiple stops in a single haul);
  • Detention Pay – the strict regulations regarding how many hours per day a trucker can drive lead to delays and possibly even changes of deadlines for the route. Some companies use detention pay to cover this lost time;
  • Misc Pay – some companies also cover aspects that go beyond just driving the truck, like loading/unloading, tarping, operating loading equipment, tolls/border crossing pay, working after hours, and more;
  • Fuel Efficiency Bonuses – the miles per gallon are a very essential thing to consider for trucking companies. It’s simple – the less MPG a haul takes to be delivered, the more benefit for the company. So, a lot of companies offer incentives for improving the MPG.
  • Safety Bonuses – Similarly to Fuel Efficiency, safety bonuses offer incentives that reward truckers for their attention to detail and safety.

What Is the Highest-Paid Truck Driving Job?

Although each trucking type can pay good, there are some definite winners when it comes to the highest-paid truck driving job.

These winners are ice road trucking and oversized/big hauls. 

The reason why these two are the highest paid truck driving jobs are simple – they both require extensive experience operating under difficult conditions.

For ice road trucking, the difficult conditions are the harsh cold weather, the fact that there is no help for miles should something go wrong, and the fact that they need to sometimes literally drive atop frozen lakes.

For oversized hauls, the difficult conditions are created by the cargo itself. There is not much room for mistake when hauling oversized cargo – and this is why only the most experienced drivers drive oversized.

How Many Hours Can a Truck Driver Drive?

As we mentioned, semi drivers are strictly regulated when it comes to working hours. The Hours-of-Service of truck drivers is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is a part of the Department of Transport (DOT)

The official FMSCA Logo

These HOS rules cover commercial motor vehicles or CMVs. A commercial motor vehicle is defined as a truck, or a truck-tractor with a trailer, that is involved in interstate commerce and:

  • Weighs, including load, 10,001 pounds (4,536 kg) or above, or
  • Has a combined weight of 10,001 pounds (4,536 kg) or above (gross weight or combined weight), or 
  • Is transporting hazardous materials in a sufficient quantity to require placards.

Current HOS rules work on daily limits, and those are as follows:

  • The 14-hour driving window limit,
  • The 11-hour driving limit,
  • The 60-hour/7-day limit, and
  • The 70-hour/8-day limit.

Truckers are required to log each hour of the day in a logbook (or ELD if available.) The log must cover the whole 24 hours of each day and includes both on-duty and off-duty hours.

There are exceptions from the HOS rules, such as driving intrastate and the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration.

DAC Reports

Most truckers go through background screening before they are employed. This screening is called a DAC Report.

The DAC report displays the employment history information that is submitted by previous employers (if any) to HireRight (the company doing these screenings) & USIS Commercial Services Inc. (known as DAC in the past, or Drive-A-Check.)

Regarding the information contained, the DAC report contains the following information:

  • The license number,
  • Information including restrictions and endorsements,
  • Name and location of employer, and the date the report was submitted,
  • The driver’s employment record,
  • The driver’s ID (name, date of birth, social security number),
  • The period during which the driver worked for the employer,
  • What types of cargo the driver hauled,
  • Why the driver left the employer,
  • The driver’s eligibility for rehire.

Truck Drivers in Pop Culture

Truckers are considered one of those professions that have been the subject of many pop culture elements. 

There is rarely a person who has not seen trucker movie classics such as Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Duel (1971), or Big Trouble in Little China (1986).

Also, truckers have been a major theme of country music. From Johnny Cash’s I’ve Been Everywhere to Texas Bound and Flyin’. 

In fact, the mid-70s were also known as the CB radio craze years, and this is the period most known trucker movies and songs were made.

Final Words

Being a trucker is not just a career choice. It is a lifestyle. Truckers have their own slang, their own way of life, and their own culture.

They are what keeps America rollin’.

Always remember this fact: If trucks stop rolling, America stops too.