Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another.

Work Environment: Working as a long-haul truck driver is a lifestyle choice because these drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time.

How to Become One: Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and attend a professional truck driving school. They must have a commercial driver’s license.

Salary: The median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is $48,310.

Job Outlook: Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a truck driver with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Tractor-trailer Driver Jobs

  • Tractor Trailer Driver - Class A - Stone Brewing Co. - Escondido, CA

    THE JOB The Tractor Trailer Driver position plays a critical role within Stone Distributing Company's transportation team. This role is responsible for driving over an established route and focusing ...

  • Truck Driver Tractor Trailer - Zuree LLC - Las Vegas, NV

    I NEED A DRIVER WITH HIS/HER OWN TRUCK. PICK UP LOCATION- FEMLEY, NV DESTINATION- HOUSTON,TX LOAD WEIGHT-35,000 NO TARP IS NEEDED BUT RECOMMENDED FLATBED OR DRY VAN MUST HAVE A TRUCK. THIS IS A ...

  • Tractor Driver II - Jackson Family Wines - Napa, CA

    Laying Out all types of Trellis Materials with Trailer * Discing * Dusting * Harvest (Hauling ... Tractor Driver * Hedging * Forklift Operator * Preprunner * Spraying Vines * Weed Spraying * Under ...

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What Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Most tractor-trailer drivers are long-haul drivers and operate trucks with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) capacity of more than 26,000 pounds. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes, sometimes spanning several states.

Duties of Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers typically do the following:

  • Drive long distances
  • Report to a dispatcher any incidents encountered on the road
  • Follow all applicable traffic laws
  • Secure cargo for transport, using ropes, blocks, chains, or covers
  • Inspect their trailers before and after the trip, and record any defects they find
  • Maintain a log of their working hours, following all federal and state regulations
  • Report serious mechanical problems to the appropriate personnel
  • Keep their trucks and associated equipment clean and in good working order

Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers' routes are assigned by a dispatcher, but some independent drivers still plan their own routes. When planning routes, drivers must take into account any road restrictions that prohibit large trucks. Drivers also must plan legally required rest periods into their trip.

Some drivers have one or two routes that they drive regularly, and others drivers take many different routes throughout the country. In addition, some drivers have routes that include Mexico or Canada.

Companies sometimes use two drivers, known as teams, on long runs in order to minimize downtime. On these team runs, one driver sleeps in a berth behind the cab while the other drives.

Certain cargo requires drivers to adhere to additional safety regulations. Some heavy truck drivers who transport hazardous materials, such as chemical waste, must take special precautions when driving, and may carry specialized safety equipment in case of an accident. Other drivers, such as those carrying liquids, oversized loads, or cars, must follow rules that apply specifically to them.

Some long-haul truck drivers, also called owner-operators, buy or lease trucks and go into business for themselves. In addition to their driving tasks, owner-operators also have business tasks, including finding and keeping clients and doing administrative work, such as accounting.

Work Environment for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers[About this section] [To Top]

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers hold about 2.0 million jobs. The largest employers of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are as follows:

Truck transportation 43%
Wholesale trade 12%
Self-employed workers 7%
Manufacturing 7%
Construction 6%

Working as a long-haul truck driver is a major lifestyle choice because these drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time. They spend much of this time alone. Driving a truck can be a physically demanding job as well. Driving for many consecutive hours can be tiring, and some drivers must load and unload cargo.

Injuries and Illnesses for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Because of the potential for traffic accidents, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

Although fatalities are uncommon, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Driver Work Schedules

Most heavy tractor-trailer drivers work full time. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the hours that a long-haul truck driver may work. Drivers may not work more than 14 hours straight, comprising up to 11 hours driving and the remaining time doing other work, such as unloading cargo. Between working periods, drivers must have at least 10 hours off duty. Drivers also are limited to driving no more than 60 hours within 7 days or 70 hours within 8 days; then drivers must take 34 hours off before starting another 7- or 8-day run. Drivers must record their hours in a logbook. Truck drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Driver[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers near you!

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and attend a professional truck driving school. They must have a commercial driver's license (CDL).

Education for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Most companies require their truck drivers to have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Many prospective drivers attend professional truck driving schools, where they take training courses to learn how to maneuver large vehicles on highways or through crowded streets. During these classes, drivers also learn the federal laws and regulations governing interstate truck driving. Students may attend either a private truckdriving school or a program at a community college that lasts between 3 and 6 months.

Upon finishing their classes, drivers receive a certificate of completion.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

All long-haul truck drivers must have a commercial driver's license (CDL). Qualifications for obtaining a CDL vary by state but generally include passing both a knowledge test and a driving test. States have the right to refuse to issue a CDL to anyone who has had a CDL suspended by another state.

Drivers can get endorsements to their CDL that show their ability to drive a specialized type of vehicle. Truck drivers transporting hazardous materials (HAZMAT) must have a hazardous materials endorsement (H). Getting this endorsement requires passing an additional knowledge test and a background check.

Federal regulations require CDL drivers to maintain a clean driving record and pass a physical exam every two years. They are also subject to random testing for drug or alcohol abuse. Truck drivers can have their CDL suspended if they are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or are convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle.

Other actions can result in a suspension after multiple violations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website has a list of these violations. Additionally, some companies have stricter standards than what federal regulations require.

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Driver Training

After completing truckdriving school and being hired by a company, drivers normally receive several weeks of on-the-job training. During this time, they drive a truck with a more experienced mentor-driver in the passenger seat. This period of on-the-job training is given so that the new drivers will learn more about the specific type of truck they will drive and material they will transport.

Important Qualities for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Hand-eye coordination. Drivers of heavy trucks and tractor-trailers must be able to coordinate their legs, hands, and eyes simultaneously so that they will react appropriately to the situation around them and drive the vehicle safely.

Hearing ability. Truck drivers need good hearing. Federal regulations require that a driver be able to hear a forced whisper in one ear at 5 feet (with or without the use of a hearing aid).

Physical health. Federal regulations do not allow people to become truck drivers if they have a medical condition, such as high blood pressure or epilepsy, which may interfere with their ability to operate a truck. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website has a full list of medical conditions that disqualify someone from driving a long-haul truck.

Visual ability. Truck drivers must be able to pass vision tests. Federal regulations require a driver to have at least 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in each eye and the ability to distinguish the colors on a traffic light.

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Driver Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is $48,310. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,730.

The median annual wages for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Truck transportation $49,100
Wholesale trade $48,060
Construction $47,610
Manufacturing $47,460

Drivers of heavy trucks and tractor-trailers usually are paid by how many miles they have driven, plus bonuses. The per-mile rate varies from employer to employer and may depend on the type of cargo and the experience of the driver. Some long-distance drivers, especially owner-operators, are paid a share of the revenue from shipping.

Most heavy tractor-trailer drivers work full time. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the hours that a long-haul truck driver may work. Drivers may not work more than 14 hours straight, comprising up to 11 hours driving and the remaining time doing other work, such as unloading cargo. Between working periods, drivers must have at least 10 hours off duty. Drivers also are limited to driving no more than 60 hours within 7 days or 70 hours within 8 days; then drivers must take 34 hours off before starting another 7- or 8-day run. Drivers must record their hours in a logbook. Truck drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 231,100 openings for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment of Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020.

Trucks transport most of the freight in the United States. The need for truck drivers should rise as households and businesses increase their spending and their demand for goods.

Employment projections data for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers, 2020-30
Occupational Title Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30
Percent Numeric
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers 1,951,600 2,073,600 6 122,100


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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