There is a severe shortage of truck drivers across a wide range of industries that provide ground travel and transportation. The driver shortage that has been steadily growing for 15 years has become a crisis. According to the American Trucking Associations, the nation’s trucking industry needs 50,000 more drivers at the end of 2017 and anticipates a need for nearly 175,000 more drivers by 2026. As the aging driver workforce retires, the trucking industry will need to hire 90,000 new drivers per year over the next decade, in order to keep pace with demand. That adds up nearly a million trucking jobs by the end of 2026.

This driver shortage affects all aspects of the American retail industry, as nearly 70% of the goods we consume are transported by trucks at some point in the supply chain. Driver shortages lead to delivery delays, with just one driver available for every 12 loads that need to be shipped. And the shortage of truck drivers also increases the price of goods, as transportation companies increase driver pay in order to attract new employees and prevent delivery delays

All of these factors make truck driving a skill that is hotly in demand, and the industry is raising wages, offering great benefits, and offering appealing bonuses and incentives to attract and keep good drivers. Currently, trucking and transport companies are offering sign-on bonuses in the thousands of dollars for new hires, as well as tuition reimbursement for truck driving school, so there has never been a better time to enter the industry and start a career as a truck driver.

If you want to take advantage of the opportunities of becoming a truck driver, here is everything you need to know.

Qualifications for being a good truck driver

Before you embark on this path, here are the criteria you need to meet:


You can drive goods within a state at the age of 18, but you must be at least 21 years old to drive goods across state lines. Most trucking companies prefer drivers 25 or older for insurance reasons.

Driving record

It probably goes without saying that you will need to have a perfect driving record. If you have had driving incidents in the past, it is still sometimes possible to get a truck driving job, but you will typically need to take a low-paying job at a less-reputable company. Building a good reputation for safety and maintaining a clean record for a year or two will allow you to then get a better job at a better company.

Drug screening

You will also need to pass a pre-employment drug screening and should expect regular drug testing as a truck driver.

Maintain a good reputation

Many of the best truck driving jobs require drivers to pass a credit check and a criminal records check, and perhaps even FBI security clearance. As with a driving record, minor infractions may not be a deal breaker for all employers, but they don’t open you up to the best opportunities.


At its core, truck driving is about having someone trust you with their valuable cargo, relying on you to deliver it on time without direct supervision. If you struggle to make deadlines, stay on schedule, and be responsible in your daily life, truck driving may not be the right career for you.

A note for veterans

All the criteria above make truck driving an excellent fit for many veterans and former military members, and the industry as a whole is very veteran friendly. The military often teaches people how to drive heavy vehicles, learn self-discipline and reliability, and a few years of military service also helps people reach the right age range. Trucking industry employers are actively interested in recruiting and hiring veterans, and many of them have military leave policies in place.

If you have all of the above qualifications, then you are already the candidate that most trucking companies are looking for, and recruiters will be eager to talk with you. But just because you have all the qualifications doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to become a truck driver.

Is truck driving the right career for you?

If you meet the above criteria, you have the foundation for an excellent career as a truck driver. But you should still consider carefully whether it’s the right choice for you. Here are things to consider about the life of a truck driver:


  • Reliable work
  • Good pay
  • Good benefits
  • Autonomous work, with no direct supervision or boss micro-managing you
  • Opportunity to travel and see America on the open road
  • Some people are attracted to the work because they love the big trucks and powerful engines
  • Wide range of work available, from short regular regional routes to long distance journeys
  • Opportunities for advancement, if you want them. Many truckers go on to become dispatchers and managers
  • Ability to work anywhere. Truck drivers can easily relocate themselves and their families and quickly find a new job where ever they live


  • Long-distance drivers can be on the road for months or weeks at a time, living in the cab of their truck. This distance puts a strain on relationships and is the most difficult part of being a truck driver. It is hard to have a healthy family life when you are away from loved ones for long periods, and on an irregular schedule
  • It’s a physically unhealthy lifestyle, with prolonged periods of sitting, incentive to adopt unhealthy sleep patterns, and a tendency to rely on fast, unhealthy foods
  • It can be lonely work, since there are restrictions on passengers and use of mobile devices while driving
  • Drivers often lose pay or miss deadlines due to factors they can’t control, like traffic and inclement weather
  • Living on the road can be expensive, which reduces the net pay for the driver
  • You may have to back into that impossible parking place

Think about these factors and find some experienced truck drivers to discuss it with, before making a decision. If you have thought it over, and still want to be a truck driver, the next big decision is:

  • Do you want to be a long-haul, OTR driver, or drive a route for a regional company where you will be able to be at home every night?
  • Do you currently have the qualifications to be an OTR driver, or do you need to gain some experience and work your way into that position?

Generally speaking, OTR drivers have more years of truck driving experience, and a history of safety and reliability that increases employer confidence and reduces insurance rates. You may not be able to start out in that role, but if you want to work your way into it over time, there are many opportunities to do so

Research companies and job openings near you

It’s not just trucking and transport companies that hire truck drivers. Truck drivers also have opportunities to work for grocery stores, charter bus companies, trash and recycling companies, construction and equipment hauling companies… wherever you are located, chances are that there are lots of job openings. Your local UPS or FedEx facilities can be a great entry point into the industry, if you want to want to take some time to learn the basics and build your skills.

If you want to go directly into OTR trucking, look at your local opportunities. It’s easy to find job listings for truck drivers on sites like, LinkedIn,, Craigslist, or even specialty sites that only list jobs in the trucking industry. Review job openings and compare:

  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Required qualifications

Once you have identified some job openings that work for your needs and location, look up those potential employers on review sites like or and see what their current employees have to say about them. With truck drivers in such high demand, remember that you don’t have to settle for an employer that doesn’t have a good reputation with their employees and with the community.

Identify a short list of local employers that appeal to you, and then contact the companies. Ask about:

Sign-on bonuses

Many trucking companies offer sign-on bonuses for new hires. Generally speaking, you have to work for that company and do a good job for some period of time before you can collect the bonus, but it’s a good reason to pursue one company more than another.

Tuition reimbursement

Many companies offer tuition reimbursement for you to attend truck driving school. Ask about the terms of tuition reimbursement, and what schools they recommend. Tuition reimbursement is a great reason to choose one company over another, but make sure you meet their guidelines before making the investment and be prepared to commit to that company or pay for your education yourself.

If you have spoken with an HR department or a recruiter from a trucking company you like and feel comfortable with, you may want to get pre-hired. Pre-hiring means that the company is offering you a guaranteed job upon graduation from truck-driving school and is a good way to get a head-start on planning your career.

Go to a truck driving school

If you’ve already reached an agreement with an employer, they have probably recommended a truck driving school to you. Many companies have preferred schools, and they will indicate their preferences when you discuss tuition reimbursement. If they have recommendations or requirements for your education, then make sure you choose the right school for your potential employer.

However, if you are choosing a driving school on your own, here are some things to be aware of:

Seek high-quality, comprehensive training

Choose a school that offers classroom, range, and on-the-road training, and not just a shortcut to your CDL. View your school as an opportunity for you to learn and gain experience, not a merely a hurdle or formality.

Do research and check reviews

The school should have a positive reputation with both industry employers and graduates. If you choose a school with a bad reputation, it may not get you the employment opportunities you are looking for.

Look for a high job placement percentage

Find a school with a good track record of actually getting graduates into jobs.

Whether you are pre-hired or not, your goal should be to go directly from school into work. Being a good truck driver requires lots of on-the-road practice and letting your skills lapse between school and work reduces the value of your education.

Get involved in a professional association

There are a number of national and regional driver’s associations. These associations provide a valuable resource for newcomers to the industry. Joining a professional association allows you to:

  • Get to know more experienced professionals. Learn tips and tricks from industry veterans
  • Learn about the industry. Learn about current issues and initiatives that affect truck drivers
  • Get involved. Volunteering and helping a professional association is a great way to build your reputation
  • In the trucking industry, as with many others, having a good reputation and wide network can boost your career. A strong network can connect you to the best opportunities at the best companies. And remember, truck driving can be lonely work: truckers still talk to each other on the road, and making new friends gets you more company.

Truck driver career path

While every individual truck driver has their own story, there is a typical career path for a truck driver. Here is what to expect:

  • After graduating from school, spend 1-2 years at an entry level company
  • After 1-2 years of maintaining a good safety record and building experience, most drivers get a job at a better company for better wages. This is also an opportunity to transition into OTR driving, if that’s what you want to do
  • After 5-years of experience with a good safety record, a driver is qualified for the best jobs at the best companies, so some drivers change companies again

Then there is generally a fork in the road:

  • Some drivers find that OTR driving isn’t what they want to do in the long term, and want to stay closer to home, often due to the needs of their family. Those drivers generally begin down a path of transitioning into management roles at the company they work for
  • Some drivers love OTR driving, and want even more money and autonomy, so they begin down a path of becoming an owner-operator

What to expect as a truck driver manager

Management careers often start with training and supervising drivers and their routes, ensuring that cargo arrives safely and on time at the destination. These roles can develop into fleet management, logistics, and more. This is a large and growing career field.

What to expect as an owner-operator  

An owner-operator is self-employed, and has to pay their own insurance, manage their own accounting, and find their own clients. But they are also free to set their own rates, choose their own routes or cargo, and keep all of their profits. Becoming an owner-operator is also a path toward starting your own trucking company, should you choose to.


Keep in mind that experienced drivers can also get jobs in many industries, not just freight and shipping. There are driver opportunities in nearly every industry, from construction and waste removal, to government jobs and bus driving. Even rock bands and film crews use truck drivers, so remember to keep your options open.

Being a truck driver isn’t for everyone, but many people find it to be an enjoyable and lucrative career. Truck drivers tend to have a special relationship with each other, since they lead such a distinctive lifestyle, and being a driver gives you the chance to make friends across the country. When you are a truck driver, no two days are alike, as the landscape and seasons around you are always different, and no two loads are exactly the same. It’s a life full of challenges and of variety, with a wealth of new experiences.

Given the urgent need for more drivers, and the accordingly high wages, bonuses, and incentives, there has never been a better time to start down this fascinating career path. It’s a career with openings literally everywhere in America, that doesn’t require a long, expensive education in order to get started. Right now, you are literally just a few weeks away from being behind the wheel of a big truck, ready to hit the open road and see where it takes you.