Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Workers

Significant Points

  • Truck drivers and driver/sales workers comprise one of the largest occupations, holding 3.2 million jobs.
  • Overall job opportunities should be favorable, especially for long-haul drivers.
  • A commercial driver's license is the most important qualification for most jobs.

Nature of the Work

Almost every product sold in the United States spends at least some time in a truck. While planes, trains, and ships are also used to transport goods, no other form of transportation has the same level of flexibility as a truck. As a result, trucks are used to transport everything from canned food to automobiles. Truck drivers and driver/sales workers operate these vehicles.

Drivers are responsible for picking up and delivering freight from one place to another. This may be from a manufacturer to a distribution center, from a distribution center to a customer, or between distribution centers. In addition, drivers may be responsible for loading and unloading their cargo. They are also responsible for following applicable laws, keeping logs of their activities, and making sure that their equipment is in good working condition.

Heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers operate trucks or vans with a capacity of at least 26,001 pounds gross vehicle weight (GVW). The vast majority of these are over-the-road or long-haul drivers, meaning they deliver goods over intercity routes that may span several States. Some drivers have regular routes or regions where they drive the most, while others take on routes throughout the country or even to Canada and Mexico.

Long-haul drivers are often responsible for planning their own routes. In most cases, operators are given a delivery location and deadline, and they must determine how to get the shipment to its destination on time. This can be difficult, as drivers must find routes that allow large trucks, and must work within the rules imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Drivers must fill out logs to show that they have followed these rules, which mandate maximum driving times and rest periods between shifts. Companies sometimes use two drivers on long runs to minimize downtime. On these “sleeper” runs, one driver sleeps in a berth behind the cab while the other operates the truck.

Light or delivery services truck drivers, often called pick-up and delivery or P&D drivers deliver goods within an urban area or small region. In most cases, they carry shipments from distribution centers to businesses or households. Drivers who work for package delivery services may have a single load and make many stops over the course of the day, while other drivers might have several loads in the course of a day. Depending on the load, drivers may have helpers who load and unload their vehicles. When making deliveries, they may accept payments for cash-on-delivery shipments, or handle paperwork, such as delivery confirmations and receipts.

Specialized truck drivers work with unusual loads. While most trucks carry freight loads in semi-trailers or vans, some carry liquids, oversized loads, or cars. Others carry hazardous materials, such as dangerous chemicals needed for industrial purposes, or waste from chemical processes that must be stored in approved facilities. Drivers who work with these types of loads must follow strict procedures to make sure their loads are delivered safely.

Some drivers, called driver/sales workers or route drivers, have sales responsibilities. For example, many driver/sales workers deliver and arrange goods to be sold in grocery stores. They may recommend that a store increase their inventory or encourage store managers to sell new products. Companies that rent linens, towels, or uniforms employ driver/sales workers to visit businesses regularly to replace soiled laundry. Driver/sales workers may also be responsible for soliciting new customers along their routes.

Work environment. Despite new technologies such as power steering, driving a truck is still a physically demanding job. Driving for many hours at a stretch, loading and unloading cargo, and making many deliveries can be tiring. Making the decision to work as a long-haul driver is a major lifestyle choice—drivers may be away from home for days or weeks at a time, and they often spend a great deal of time alone. Local truck drivers usually return home in the evening.

The U.S. Department of Transportation regulates work hours and other working conditions of truck drivers engaged in interstate commerce. A long-distance driver may drive for no more than 11 hours per day, and work a total of no more than 14 hours—including driving and non-driving duties. Between working periods, a driver must have at least 10 hours off duty. Drivers also cannot work more than 60 hours in a week without being off-duty for at least 34 hours straight. Drivers are required to document their time in a log, which shows working hours and mileage by day. Many drivers, particularly on long runs, work close to the maximum time permitted because they are usually compensated according to the number of miles they drive. Drivers on long runs face boredom, loneliness, and fatigue. Drivers often travel nights, holidays, and weekends.

Local truck drivers frequently work 50 or more hours a week. Drivers who handle food for chain grocery stores, produce markets, or bakeries typically work long hours—often late at night or early in the morning. Most drivers have regular routes, although some have different routes each day. Many local truck drivers—particularly driver/sales workers—do a considerable amount of lifting, carrying, and walking.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Drivers who operate trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds, or who operate a vehicle carrying hazardous materials or oversized loads, need a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Training for the CDL is offered by many private and public vocational-technical schools. A standard driver's license is required to drive all other trucks. Many jobs driving smaller trucks require only brief on-the-job training.

Education and training. Most prospective truck drivers take driver-training courses at a technical or vocational school to prepare for CDL testing. Driver-training courses teach students how to maneuver large vehicles on crowded streets and in highway traffic. These courses also train drivers how to properly inspect trucks and freight for compliance with regulations.

Some States require prospective drivers to complete a training course in basic truck driving before getting their CDL. Some companies have similar requirements. People interested in attending a driving school should check with local trucking companies to make sure the school's training is acceptable. The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) certifies driver-training courses at truck driver training schools that meet industry standards and Federal Highway Administration guidelines for training tractor-trailer drivers.

Employers usually have training programs for new drivers who have already earned their CDL. This is often informal and may consist of only a few hours of instruction from an experienced driver. Some companies give 1 to 2 days of classroom instruction covering general duties, the operation and loading of a truck, company policies, and the preparation of delivery forms and company records. New drivers may also ride with and observe experienced drivers before getting their own assignments. Drivers receive additional training to drive special types of trucks or handle hazardous materials. Driver/sales workers receive training on the various types of products their company carries so that they can effectively answer questions about the products and more easily market them to their customers.

Licensure. Federal and State regulations govern the qualifications and standards for truck drivers. Drivers must comply with all Federal regulations and any State regulations that are in excess of those Federal requirements when under that State’s jurisdiction.

Truck drivers must have a driver's license issued by the State in which they live. Drivers of trucks with a GVW of 26,001 pounds or more—including most tractor-trailers, as well as bigger straight trucks—must obtain a CDL. All drivers who operate trucks transporting hazardous materials or oversized loads must obtain a CDL and a special endorsement, regardless of truck capacity. In order to receive the hazardous materials endorsement, a driver must be fingerprinted and submit to a criminal background check by the Transportation Security Administration. In many States, a regular driver's license is sufficient for driving light trucks and vans.

To qualify for a CDL, applicants must have clean driving records, pass written tests on rules and regulations, and demonstrate that they can operate commercial trucks safely. A national database permanently records all driving violations committed by those with a CDL, and issuing authorities reject applicants who have suspended or revoked licenses in other States. Licensed drivers must accompany trainees until they get their own CDLs. A person may not hold more than one driver’s license at a time and must surrender any other licenses when issued a CDL. Information on how to apply for a CDL may be obtained from State motor vehicle administrations.

Although many States allow 18 year-olds to drive trucks within their borders, a driver must be at least 21 years of age to cross State lines or get special endorsements. Regulations also require drivers to pass a physical examination every 2 years. Physical qualifications include good hearing, at least 20/40 vision with glasses or corrective lenses, and a 70-degree field of vision in each eye. They must also be able to distinguish between colors on traffic lights. Drivers must also have normal use of arms and legs and normal blood pressure. People with epilepsy or diabetes controlled by insulin are not permitted to be interstate truck drivers.

Other qualifications. Federal regulations require employers to test their drivers for alcohol and drug use as a condition of employment and require periodic random tests of the drivers while they are on duty. Drivers may not use any controlled substances, unless prescribed by a licensed physician. A driver must not have been convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle or a crime involving drugs, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, refusing to submit to an alcohol test required by a State or its implied consent laws or regulations, leaving the scene of a crime, or causing a fatality through negligent operation of a motor vehicle. All drivers must be able to read and speak English well enough to read road signs, prepare reports, and communicate with law enforcement officers and the public.

Many trucking companies have higher standards than those required by Federal and State regulations. For example, firms often require that drivers be at least 22 years old, be able to lift heavy objects, and have driven trucks for 3 to 5 years. They may also prefer to hire high school graduates and require annual physical examinations.

Drivers must get along well with people because they often deal directly with customers. Employers seek driver/sales workers who speak well and have self-confidence, initiative, tact, and a neat appearance. Employers also look for responsible, self-motivated individuals who are able to work well with little supervision.

Advancement. Although most new truck drivers are assigned to regular driving jobs immediately, some start as extra drivers—substituting for regular drivers who are ill or on vacation. Extra drivers receive a regular assignment when an opening occurs.

Truck drivers can advance to jobs that provide higher earnings, preferred schedules, or better working conditions. Long-haul truck drivers primarily look for new contracts that offer better pay per mile or higher bonuses. Because companies entrust drivers with millions of dollars worth of equipment and freight, drivers who have a long record of safe driving earn far more than new drivers. Local truck drivers may advance to driving heavy or specialized trucks or transfer to long-distance truck driving. Truck drivers occasionally advance to become dispatchers or managers.

Some long-haul truck drivers—called owner-operators—purchase or lease trucks and go into business for themselves. Although some are successful, others fail to cover expenses and go out of business. Owner-operators should have good business sense as well as truck driving experience. Courses in accounting, business, and business mathematics are helpful. Knowledge of truck mechanics can enable owner-operators to perform their own routine maintenance and minor repairs.


Truck drivers and driver/sales workers held about 3.2 million jobs in 2008. Of these workers, 56 percent were heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers; 31 percent were light or delivery services truck drivers; and 13 percent were driver/sales workers. Most truck drivers find employment in large metropolitan areas or along major interstate roadways where trucking, retail, and wholesale companies tend to have their distribution outlets. Some drivers work in rural areas, providing specialized services such as delivering newspapers to customers.

The truck transportation industry employed 27 percent of all truck drivers and driver/sales workers in the United States. Another 26 percent worked for companies engaged in wholesale or retail trade. The remaining truck drivers and driver/sales workers were distributed across many industries, including construction and manufacturing.

Around 8 percent of all truck drivers and driver/sales workers were self-employed. Of these, a significant number were owner-operators who either served a variety of businesses independently or leased their services and trucks to a trucking company.

Job Outlook

Overall job opportunities should be favorable for truck drivers, especially for long-haul drivers. However, opportunities may vary greatly in terms of earnings, weekly work hours, number of nights spent on the road, and quality of equipment. Competition is expected for jobs offering the highest earnings or most favorable work schedules. Average employment growth is expected.

Employment change. Overall employment of truck drivers and driver/sales workers is expected to grow 9 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the economy grows, the demand for goods will increase, which will lead to more job opportunities. Because it is such a large occupation, 291,900 new jobs will be created over the 2008-18 period.

The number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is expected to grow 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast as average, mainly as a result of increasing demand for goods in the U.S. As the economy continues to grow, companies and households will continue to increase their spending on these products, many of which must be shipped over long distances.

Employment of light or delivery services truck drivers should grow 4 percent over the projections decade, which is more slowly than average. Though experiencing slower growth than heavy trucking, light and delivery trucking will similarly be closely tied to the state of the economy. As economic growth occurs, there will be an increasing need for light trucking services, from the distribution of goods from warehouses to the package delivery to households. The number of driver/sales workers is also expected to grow 4 percent between 2008 and 2018, more slowly than average, for the same basic reasons.

Job prospects. Job opportunities should be favorable for truck drivers, especially for long-haul drivers. In addition to occupational growth, numerous job openings will occur as experienced drivers leave this large occupation to transfer to other fields of work, retire, or leave the labor force. As workers leave these jobs, employers work hard to recruit experienced drivers from other companies. As a result, there may be competition for the jobs with the highest earnings and most favorable work schedules. Jobs with local carriers are often more competitive than those with long-distance carriers because of the more desirable working conditions of local carriers.

Despite projected employment growth, the demand for workers may vary greatly depending on the performance of the American economy. During times of expansion, companies may be forced to pay premiums to attract drivers, while during recessions even experienced drivers may find difficulty keeping steady work. Independent owner-operators will be particularly vulnerable to slowdowns. Industries least likely to be affected by economic fluctuation, such as grocery stores, will be the most stable employers of truck drivers and driver/sales workers.


Median hourly wages of heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers were $17.92 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.21 and $22.56. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.63, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.07.

Median hourly wages of light or delivery services truck drivers were $13.27 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.07 and $17.74. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.10, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.15.

Median hourly wages of driver/sales workers, including commissions, were $10.70 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.74 and $15.82. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.09, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.32.

Employers typically pay long-haul drivers by the mile, with bonus opportunities available for drivers who save the company money. Local truck drivers tend to be paid by the hour, with extra pay for working overtime. The per-mile rate can vary greatly from employer to employer and may even depend on the type of cargo being hauled. Some long-distance drivers—especially owner-operators—are paid a share of the revenue from shipping. Typically, pay increases with experience, seniority, and the size and type of truck driven. Most driver/sales workers receive commissions based on their sales in addition to their wages.

However, any loans or factoring services truckers use must be accounted for in their net income ( learn more about factoring here).

Many truck drivers are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Some truck drivers employed by companies outside the trucking industry are members of unions representing the plant workers of the companies for which they work. In 2008, about 16 percent of truck drivers and driver/sales workers were union members or covered by union contracts.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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