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loading dock etiquette

Loading dock etiquette might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the skills that truck drivers need. Depending on your haul range and load type, you may spend more or less time at loading docks. But, whether you love them or hate them, loading docks are a part of trucker life. Here are 5 tips on loading dock etiquette that will help get you in and out as smoothly as possible. 

1. Communicate Well

Good communication is part of the foundation for every relationship. On the job, that includes the time you spend at the loading dock. While most drivers know more or less what to expect at the loading dock, always lean on the side of more communication. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page. So, what happens when you run into some dock workers who are taking their sweet time to load or unload your truck? 

Unfortunately, there’s a natural tension between hourly dockworkers and drivers who are required to complete a certain number of loads.

If loading or unloading starts to get really slow, make a note to share that with your boss. Let them handle the conversation with the shipper.

Different docks have different policies, so it’s important to have communication in both directions. As a driver, let them know what you need and if you run into delays. On the other hand, be open to what the dock workers are saying if they have specific instructions. Even if it sounds unnecessary or weird to you, dock workers might have specific regulations to follow. 

2. Be Prepared

If you’re going to a place that you’ve been before, you may know the route and any tips or tricks that will help you navigate the loading dock. If you’re going to a new location, try to find out some information before you go. Talk to other drivers at your companythey might have valuable information to share. They might warn you about potential issues or give a good review of their experience. On the same note, share your expertise with other drivers if they ask!

For familiar and unfamiliar locations, make sure you have your paperwork ready before you arrive. Just like it’s a pain to wait on a disorganized shipper, you can make everyone’s lives a little smoother by having everything together before you arrive.

3. Stay Sharp

trucking backing into loading dock

Loading docks have a lot going on, especially compared to the time solo on the road. There are often a lot of people and vehicles of all sizes moving around. Unsurprisingly, that can make a loading dock a hotspot for workplace accidents. Distracted workers are more likely to have or cause accidents, so drivers have to stay sharp to avoid the chaos around them.

Also, pay close attention to the loading dock rules. Since they may be different between shippers, don’t assume you already know what they want. You might not love the rules at some locations, but at the end of the day, griping about them won’t change anything. It just slows things down and it won’t make your day any brighter.

4. Set Yourself Up for Success

If you are preparing to load or unload and find yourself in a tight position, don’t hesitate to speak up. Backing up is a critical skill for drivers, and you can’t do your job if there are obstacles in the way. If there isn’t enough room or if there are vehicles or debris in your path, ask for someone to move it. Dock workers might not be thrilled about the request, but it’s a lot less hassle than dealing with damaged property. 

When you set up to back into a loading dock, do what you need to do to back in safely and accurately. Smart-Trucking.com shares its three most important rules of backing:

  1. Get out and look multiple times
  2. Ask for parked cars or obstacles to be moved
  3. Refuse to back into an impossible situation

Over the years, you will spend time at countless loading docks. Do what you can to make your time there as short and painless as possible by setting yourself up for backing success.

5. Stay Calm & Patient

Delays happen. On your route, at the loading dock. They’re unavoidable. But when they happen, try not to get overly frustrated and avoid driver burnout.

truck driver at loading dock

When everything is taking too long or being poorly handled, calm and patient is probably the last thing you want to be. But it is important. In general, assume the best in people first. But, if there is a bigger problem or they are deliberately moving slowly, take action by reporting the incident. 

Remember, even with bad shippers, your goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible. So, try not to escalate confrontations. Avoid direct conflict, but make sure to let your company know about your experience. Save yourself and other drivers a bad experience down the road by saying something! But, let your boss deal with the communication.

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type of freight

When deciding what type of freight is best for you, there’s a lot to think about. As a driver, you’re probably looking for good pay, home time, and job availability. Seems simple, but there’s a lot that can go into that decision. Not all types of trucking are for everyone. Choose something that meets your needs and is a good fit for your lifestyle. Otherwise, you’re going to be looking for a new job all over again all too soon. When you think about the type of freight you want to haul, these are a few things to help make your decision.

Making the Right Decision

Your Lifestyle

One of the most important things to consider when you are trying to decide on a type of freight is your lifestyle. Choose a job that fits YOU. That includes pay. If a job doesn’t pay well enough to support you and your family, you probably won’t stay very long. Home time is another “must-have” for most drivers. Some drivers are die-hard OTR fans and like nothing better than weeks on the road. Other drivers need home time every night to tuck their kids into bed. 

There are jobs out there for every type of trucker, so decide what works best for you, and look for jobs that meet your bottom line expectations.

The final lifestyle question has to do with how you spend your time on the job. Do you want to be driving most of the time or have a variety of non-driving related tasks mixed in? There are jobs out there for every type of trucker, so decide what works best for you.

Company Type

Once you make some big decisions about lifestyle and narrow down your list, consider company type. Do you want to work for a large carrier or a small carrier? Small carriers are more likely to give you that “family feel,” but freight may be less consistent depending on their specialty. On the other hand, large companies usually have higher freight volumes, but you might not feel as personally connected to your team.

Along with company size, consider haul type. Would you prefer a company that always carries the same thing or do you like a little variety in your life? Similarly, do you want to always work with the same customers? Consider looking for a dedicated route. Also, there are some local routes where you can get to know your customers the same way. 

Experience and Endorsements

At the end of the day, there’s a job for every driver, but not every driver is a good fit for every job. Experience and endorsements are two big deciding factors. Some jobs typically go to drivers with more experience. For example, most drivers who haul over-dimensional loads have at least 10 years of experience under their belt. 

Endorsements can also make a big difference. Some jobs “require” specific endorsements while others “prefer” them. Endorsements verify your training in a specific area, but they are also a sign to the employer that you were willing to invest in yourself to take on new responsibilities. If you identify a type of freight that is a great fit for you, find out if you have the right endorsements. If not, consider whether it’s worth getting additional training right now. 

A few of the most common endorsements for CDL A and CDL B drivers are:

Types of Freight to Consider 

1. Dry Van

dry van truckMany truck drivers start out learning to drive Dry Van. Dry Van drivers usually carry dry goods and a wide variety of non-perishable freight in 53’ trailers. Many Dry Van positions are over the road or regional. Drivers who want to drive Dry Van will have a wide range of companies to choose from. With so many companies to choose from, read job descriptions carefully to make sure the job fits your pay and home time needs.

Endorsements: Many Dry Van positions do not require endorsements, but some specialized loads may require Hazmat or Doubles and Triples endorsements.

Lifestyle Fit: Hauling Dry Van is a popular choice for many drivers. It’s great for new drivers because there aren’t as many special considerations as for some other types of freight. Many experienced drivers stick with Dry Van for similar reasonsthere’s often lots of variety in the type of freight drivers haul and it has a refreshing level of simplicity.

2. Refrigerated Freight

refrigerated truck driverRefrigerated trucking, more commonly known as Reefer trucking, is particularly good for drivers who have some experience already and pride themselves on their close attention to detail. Reefer drivers most commonly haul food, which gives drivers a lot of job security. If you are a Refrigerated Freight owner operator and do have a hard time getting a load, you can also haul Dry Van freight in a Reefer truck. 

Endorsements: Most Reefer positions do not require endorsements. 

Lifestyle Fit: Reefer trucking is hard work but is also compensated well. Most people consider hauling refrigerated freight after they have a few years of experience and are looking to diversify. Most of these jobs are regional or OTR, and you will have a lot of companies to choose from. Reefer drivers tend to work odd hours and will find themselves regularly loading and driving during nighttime hours.

3. Flatbed

oversized flatbed loadFlatbed drivers are in high demand and, as a result, pay is typically more competitive than some other driving jobs. Unlike Dry Van or Reefer jobs, Flatbed jobs often require more physical work to safely secure the loads with tarps. Some flatbed drivers will have a Conestoga trailer with a sliding tarp system instead of a traditional flatbed trailer. That often makes loading, unloading, and securing much more convenient for the driver. 

Endorsements: Typically, Flatbed drivers do not need additional endorsements

Lifestyle Fit: Flatbed trucking is often considered one of the more challenging types of trucking jobs. If you don’t mind a little extra physical work and are up for an adventure, the higher pay and regular job demand make Flatbed a great choice for many drivers.

4. Tanker

tanker trucks getting filledDriving a Tanker truck can mean hauling either liquids or dry bulk. If you see a Tanker truck position available, it could be for anything from gasoline or water (liquids) to food or materials like sand (Dry bulk). Often, Tanker truck drivers have a few years of experience, and as the name says, you’ll need your Tanker endorsement. 

Endorsements: Tanker endorsement required. For some jobs, you will also need a Hazmat endorsement to haul hazardous materials. 

Lifestyle Fit: Tanker drivers earn a good wage and usually have strong benefits. In addition, many Tanker jobs are regional or local, so drivers are home frequently. Unlike Dry Van and Reefer, loading and unloading a Tanker can go quickly. You could be in and out in under 20 minutes! Drivers wear protective gear to reduce that risk during the loading and unloading process. 

5. Specialty Loads

If you want to haul a specific type of freight, chances are someone will pay you to do it. In addition to the more common haul types we mentioned earlier, there are many types of specialty loads out there. Here are just a few examples:

  • Over-Dimensional Loads: Anything bigger than typical dimensions. Usually, drivers need to have some flatbed experience first.
  • Autohauler: These drivers haul cars. It’s highly specialized and valuable freight, so drivers need a lot of skill and are paid well. 
  • Intermodal: Any freight that uses at least two types of transportation is intermodal freight (ex. Train and truck). Most drivers work close to a railroad or shipping hub.
  • Livestock: Frequently Livestock drivers usually haul chickens, pigs, horses, or cows. Drivers need a certification for the specific type of livestock they haul. It’s hard work, and drivers are compensated well for their extra efforts.

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Wide load truck

The exact dimensions of an over-dimensional load vary by state. In a nutshell, over-dimensional is exactly what it sounds like—any high, long, heavy, or wide load truck that is larger than typical dimensions. This usually includes trucks or loads taller than 13’6” (with some regional differences) and wider than 8’6”. Length regulations change by state. Because there are different regulations based on where you’re driving, it’s important to check every state along your route before you start. If you’re considering moving to over-dimensional loads for the next stage of your trucking career, here are some pros and cons to keep in mind. 

Pros

1. Pay and Job Security

Let’s start with the big questions. Is there any real pay benefit to hauling more challenging loads? Actually, yes. Wide load truck drivers and other over-dimensional load haulers are pretty well paid for the position. You will be required to carry special permits, but even with that added expense, the finances work out well in your favor for over-dimensional loads. In addition, you won’t be tied to a single piece of equipment. That significantly boosts job security. Being able to haul a variety of loads means you won’t drive with your truck or your pockets empty.

Vic R. Oversized Load Truck Driver

We talked to Vic, a truck driver who has hauled oversized loads for 14 years. 

Vic was previously doing container work but chose to transition to oversized loads for the pay increase. He now makes significantly more money and has variety in his work daily. Vic shared “There’s a lot more money in oversized loads. Every day is an adventure, and it’s never boring.”

Over-dimensional loads require a high level of responsibility and a bigger mental load, but there’s also usually less physical work. That said, don’t look for compensation as a good CPM. This type of run isn’t about the miles—there’s a lot of waiting involved. If you are not a patient driver and willing to wait for parking, room to fuel up, etc., this probably isn’t the job for you. Because miles aren’t the bottom line, typically pay will come as salary, percentage pay, or hourly wages

2. Show Your Skills

Hauling a wide load truck or other types of over-dimensional load is not usually a job for rookie drivers. There is a high level of skill required for this type of position because the cargo is often high value and oversized. Defensive driving is a must. As a result, many drivers have 10+ years of experience in other types of trucking. The vast majority of over-dimensional drivers have at least some flatbed trucking experience. Similarly, drivers with more endorsements are often hired more easily. Even if you don’t need endorsements for a particular load, endorsements have a lot of value. They show that you are able to work a variety of assignments and, importantly, that you are a hard worker who prioritizes their career. 

There are no hard and fast rules about years of experience or endorsements, but in general, more is better in this case. Hauling over-dimensional freight can be a great job for drivers who want to incorporate a lot of the skills and experience they have gained along the way. 

3. Pilot Cars

Pilot cars (also known as escorts) are commercial passenger vehicles that drive alongside an oversized vehicle. They are required to have visible signage on the front and rear of their cars, and you’ve probably seen them on the road before. In tricky situations or routes, they can be a big help.

If you’ve never driven with a pilot car before, you should know that they won’t necessarily join you for the whole trip. They may only accompany you through the most treacherous areas.

Escorts will either drive ahead of you as a scout or they will follow you to help ensure that other vehicles observe proper spacing. There are also specialized escorts called pole cars whose purpose is to check the height of any overhead obstacles to make sure that the truck and its load will be able to pass safely. Most escorts also carry safety equipment in case of a breakdown on the road.

Cons

1. Preplanning Is a Must

Preplanning is a standard part of any trucking job. But, many experienced drivers might not need to spend as much time preplanning as they once did. For a wide load truck or other over-dimensional loads, preplanning is not optional. You must know your route well before you set off. Are there any road obstacles to be aware of? When can you fuel? Will parking be readily available when you’re scheduled to stop? 

It’s also a good idea to find out whether your pilot car knows the route well. Some escorts run the same lanes over and other. Others are simply hired and may be driving your route for the first time. There can also be different requirements in different states or regions. Make sure you know the regulations of each place you will travel through.

2. Route Requirements

As an over-dimensional load driver, you will usually have a set route with a specific delivery window. That can be a bit of a challenge, especially in bad weather. In an oversized flatbed, a big storm could have a big impact on your intended delivery time. Unfortunately, responsibility for an on time delivery ultimately falls on the driver. That’s one reason why many oversized loads don’t move during the night

Responsibility for an on time delivery ultimately falls on the driver.

With that being said, there are some loads that can be hauled at night as long as there is proper lighting. Ultimately, that decision depends on the state you are driving in. For most places in the United States, anything under 10’ wide can run at night. On the flip side, superloads (the next size classification up) often haul only at night. Most of these giants require a police escort as well as pilot cars, and they prefer to run when the roads are emptiest.

Getting Started

There is no set way to become a wide load truck driver or to start hauling over-dimensional loads. Typically, employers look for flatbed experience, and drivers need to be comfortable tarping and strapping their load. There are some training programs through companies like ATS and Lonestar, but not all drivers start over-dimensional trucking through a formal program. Multi-axle trailers are one of the best ways to start moving toward the world of over-dimensional loads. 

There really is nothing like hauling over-dimensional loads, so do your research before you get started. It’s not for everyone, but for patient, experienced drivers who want to put their skills to the test, driving a wide load truck or hauling over-dimensional loads is very rewarding.

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refrigerated truck driver

Are you looking to expand your trucking experience? Being a refrigerated truck driver might be the perfect fit. It’s most commonly known as reefer trucking, and this haul type is particularly good for drivers who have some experience already and pride themselves on their close attention to detail. Reefer trucking is hard work but is also compensated well. Here are a few ways to decide whether being a refrigerated truck driver is for you. 

Job Security is a High Priority

Job security is one of those things that is hard to measure when you are job searching but helps us all sleep a little better at night. This year, job security has been top of mind for many Americans. As we saw in Spring 2020, many truck drivers were considered essential workers, but not all of them. One big benefit of being a refrigerated truck driver is that your job security is very good. Reefer trucks primarily carry fresh food. As a result, no matter what else happens, reefer trucks will be on the roads. 

Job security is very good for reefer drivers. Most refrigerated truck drivers haul fresh food, and that will always be essential.

Demand for reefer trucking is consistently moderate to high because of the goods hauled. On the other hand, because of the extra training requirements, the supply of drivers is comparatively low. If you are a refrigerated truck driver or want to become one, that means less job competition for you! Many (but not all) reefer drivers are owner-operators. If you are finding your own loads, reefer trucks are a more flexible choice. Even if you can’t get a refrigerated load, some dry van loads can also be hauled in a reefer truck. That helps reduce the possibility of an empty return trip where you’re not earning a paycheck.

You Want to Diversify Your Experience

Being a refrigerated truck driver isn’t a first step for most CDL holders. Running refrigerated loads can be challenging, but it’s also well-paid. Typically, people start considering reefer driving after at least a few years of other driving experience. To become a refrigerated truck driver, you will need some extra training. 

In addition to the technical skills you will learn, refrigerated truck drivers need to be excellent decision-makers and problem solvers. Because of the temperature control required for successful reefer runs, a breakdown can mean losing a load. So, drivers must have quick, sound judgment when they run into unexpected challenges on the road. Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, reefer driving is a great way to stand out as a skilled candidate for future jobs. 

Employers Consider You Punctual and Detail-Oriented

Being a refrigerated truck driver takes more than just good driving. Arriving on time for deliveries is extremely important. Often, a missed appointment isn’t just a question of a slight delay. It can mean a very long wait time (even up to more than a day!) before you can reschedule your delivery! With that in mind, punctuality is critical for anyone hauling a reefer trailer. 

Punctuality is critical for anyone hauling a reefer trailer. Schedules can be very tight and most loads have very specific requirements for temperature.

In a refrigerated truck, precision doesn’t stop at the schedule. Most loads have very specific requirements for temperature. To help manage this, drivers may be responsible for supervising the loading and position of freight in their trailer. Depending on the job, drivers may also be responsible for loading or unloading as well. Then, after you’re on the road, drivers must use consistent tracking to maintain a certain temperature in all parts of the trailer at all times.

9-5 Jobs Aren’t Your Style

Truck driving is more than a job. For many drivers, it’s a lifestyle. Each haul type has unique pros and cons, and refrigerated loads are no exception. These runs are a good fit for night owl drivers who love the quiet roads in the early morning hours. Reefer drivers tend to work odd hours and will find themselves regularly loading and driving during nighttime hours. 

Reefer jobs can be local, regional, or OTR. Many local drivers are home every night, but regional and OTR drivers will be spending nights in the cab. In a refrigerated truck, the cooling unit has to run 24/7, and that comes with a lot of noise. For light sleepers, earplugs may be a worthwhile investment.

It’s Time to Be Your Own Boss

Refrigerated trucking owner-operators are in high demand. It is also possible to be a refrigerated truck driver for a large carrier, but these positions are harder to come by.

If you are interested in becoming an owner-operator, being a refrigerated truck driver might be a perfect fit for you. 

As with any owner-operator position, confidence navigating hiring contracts is a must. Because the stakes for breakdowns or repairs can be a lost load, owner-operators need to understand their contract inside and out. A contract should clearly state who is responsible for the cost of repairs and maintenance. Once you understand the finances, logistics, and contracts of being an independent contractor, you’re ready to be your own boss!

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Local Truck Driving Jobs

So you’re looking at local truck driving jobs? Great choice. Local trucking is a good fit for many drivers. Remember, as with any job, there are pros and cons to local trucking jobs. Before you make the switch, get to know the benefits and drawbacks of local trucking, and decide whether it’s a good fit for you. 

The Pros 

family life 1. Home Time

Many drivers are drawn to local truck driving jobs because of the home time. It’s for a good reason. Local jobs typically get drivers home every night. If not every night, drivers can expect to be home almost every night. For drivers with a family, that’s hard to beat. 

2. Frequently Off on the Weekends

In addition to being home every night, many local drivers are off on the weekends. This does depend on your company and what you’re hauling, but many local drivers have weekends off.

Weekends off are much more likely in a local position than for OTR drivers.

Attending social gatherings or events on the weekends becomes much more possible with a local truck driving jobs. 

3. Health Benefits

In addition to more home time, local truck drivers pick up some serious health benefits. Local drivers tend to spend less time behind the wheel than regional or OTR drivers. As a result, local drivers are less exposed to the safety risks of being on the road for long periods of time. They are also usually more active. Because local drivers make more stops, there are more opportunities to move around throughout the day. 

4. A Set Routine

If you like to have a fixed schedule, local trucking is for you. Drivers generally have a set hourly schedule that they can count on. That’s great for planning things outside of work. It also gives you a little extra peace of mind to know when you’ll be home and when you need to leave. 

work life balance of Local Truck Driving Jobs5. Excellent Work/Life Balance

Work/life balance is a huge consideration for local drivers. Local truck driving jobs are hard work, but they also help drivers be present for the day to day relationships at home. Local drivers still have to find a balance with their loved ones, but the rewards can be great. If you value being physically present for life’s little moments, local truck driving jobs are for you. 

The Cons

There’s a lot to love about local truck driving jobs. At the end of the day though, they’re just not for everyone. There are a few downsides to consider when you are deciding whether to become a local driver. 

6. Lower Pay

On average, local truck driving jobs pay less than the average OTR position. According to Ziprecruiter, local drivers in the United States earn an average of $51,355. Consider your personal budget and whether the finances work for you in the short and long term. For many drivers, the lower wage is worth the extra work/life balance, but pay is an important consideration.

7. Positions are Competitive

Local truck driving jobs are often extremely competitive. Trucking companies can afford to be choosy because they have a lot of interested candidates.

A good position may require drivers to have some experience first. In addition, there will likely be lots of applicants, so you have to make a strong positive impression when you apply.

If you don’t get offered a position right away, keep getting more experience to help you stand out from other candidates. 

load unload Local Truck Driving Jobs8. Loading and Unloading

Some local truck driving jobs make frequent stops and require physical labor. This depends heavily on your company and type of haul. In some positions, drivers may need to load and/or unload their trucks. Think of it as a built-in weight lifting workout! This might be minor for some drivers, but if you are only interested in no-touch freight, read the job descriptions carefully.

9. Long Hours

The hours you work as a local driver depend heavily on your company. However, for many drivers, days last 10-14 hours. In addition, local drivers may start at any time of the day. For example, it’s not uncommon for a work shift to begin at 4:00 AM. The good news is, many companies offer overtime pay. Longer hours can help bring in a bigger paycheck. With such long days, some drivers find home time a challenge during the week. While local drivers are home every night, there may not be a lot of downtime between shifts. Some drivers feel like they finish work just in time to go home, eat dinner, sleep, and wake up to do it all again. 

Additional Factors

Some parts of local truck driving jobs aren’t exactly pros or cons. It all depends on your preferred work experience. Here are a few additional things to think about.

Are you a People Person?

Some local jobs require more customer interaction than regional or OTR positions. Others don’t ask drivers to interact with customers regularly. Also, local drivers tend to communicate very frequently with their coworkers and dispatchers. This can be a huge plus for some drivers and a downside for others. It’s really about personal preference. Decide for yourself whether you want more interaction with others. Then, seek out jobs that fit your preferences. 

CDL B licenseCity Driving

Like more regular communication, city driving isn’t necessarily a pro or a con. If you don’t mind spending more time in cities and towns, local driving is a good fit. If you strongly prefer to drive on highways as much as possible, consider whether the benefits of local truck driving jobs outweigh the downsides.

Choosing Your Company

You’ve heard it a million timesgood employees don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. It’s true for local truck driving jobs too.

For any trucking job you’re considering, read the details carefully. When talking to recruiters, try to get a sense of the company culture.

Each fleet traits drivers differently. Look for a fleet that matches your professional qualifications and your personal lifestyle preferences.

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truck driver pay

Truck driver pay is one of the key elements that CDL drivers look for in a new job. Some of the most important factors for earning potential are years of experience, location, the number of miles driven, special qualifications such as endorsements, type of haul, and haul range. Not all jobs are equally compensated, but you should be able to know what to expect from your paycheck. Make sure you get all the details from your recruiter. Whether it’s for a new job or to get started in trucking, here are the types of compensation you may get offered. 

Base Pay

For company drivers, there are four main types of base pay. Some drivers may receive additional compensation in the form of bonuses or specialty pay. That said, the bulk of your income will come from one of these types of base pay.

1. Hourly

Hourly pay is likely familiar to many drivers because it’s common in many industries. In trucking, pay per hour is frequently used by intrastate delivery companies with relatively small driving ranges. Drivers who are paid hourly can often expect work with frequent stops, loading and unloading, and regular customer interaction. Many hourly positions offer overtime hours which can add a big bonus to your paycheck if you’re willing to take on extra hours.

2. Pay Per Mile

This is one of the most common types of pay across the trucking industry. Pay per mile, often called CPM (cents per mile), pays drivers for the miles they run. Within mileage pay, there are several ways to calculate truck driver pay.

  • Practical Mileage. This is the number of miles based on the most efficient path between the address at your starting location and the address at your destination. It’s often calculated with an ELD. Think of it as similar to how Google or Apple Maps calculate a driving route. 
  • Household Goods (HHG) miles. HHG miles are also called zip code miles. Companies calculate routes based on the shortest distance between the post office zip code in the origin city and the post office zip code in the destination city. 
  • Hub Mileage, also called Actual Miles. This type of truck driver pay uses the mileage change on the odometer. It accounts for all hours of service miles including changes in routes or stops. 
  • Sliding Scales Pay. Often this type of pay is used by companies who want to give short-haul drivers a chance to earn a higher income. For example, short hauls (1-500 miles) may pay $0.55 CPM while routes of 500+ miles might earn $0.50 CPM.

In addition to CPM, a job description that pays based on miles should include the number of miles per week that drivers can expect. For example, a job description might offer $0.53 CPM and an average of 2500 weekly miles. A higher CPM is usually good news, but it’s important to read the fine print. Your total pay depends on the number of miles traveled, so look for jobs with a high CPM and enough miles to earn the paycheck you want.

3. Salary

Salaried trucking jobs offer income consistency. For drivers who receive a salary, income is not dependent on the specific miles or hours worked. Instead, a flat rate is set at the start of the job contract and drivers will consistently earn that amount. Often, salaried drivers receive pay weekly.

4. Pay Per Load

Pay Per Load is the least common type of base pay. Most jobs that offer pay per load are in the agriculture, oil and gas industries, or are local delivery jobs.

Drivers earn a flat rate of pay for each load they deliver. In this type of pay, drivers earn more when they deliver more loads regardless of hours or miles.

Additional Truck Driver Pay

Per Diem

In a nutshell, per diem is money given for any place you stay overnight, meals, and other incidental expenses. Per diem is a form of reimbursement, but the biggest benefits come during tax season. Companies may offer per diems by day, per mile, or even as a percentage. If you are a company driver, per diem wages are not considered taxable income. 

For example, if you are paid $0.60 CPM and $0.45CPM is your base income and $0.15CPM is per diem, 25% of your income is not taxable. 

As of 2018, even though company drivers can no longer claim $63 per day as an expense on their taxes, they can claim the standard deduction. A higher per diem wage doesn’t change your annual income, but it does mean that you will pay less in taxes. Owner operators are still able to use per diem and deduct it as an expense on their taxes.

Detention and Layover Pay

When drivers are stopped for long periods of time, some companies will offer compensation. Drivers get detention pay when they are held up at a shipper or receiver for an extended amount of time. Layover pay may be given to drivers who have to wait between loads. Detention and layover pay are particularly important for drivers who are paid by the mile. In addition, some companies offer breakdown pay when incidents happen on the road and drivers cannot log miles.

Stop Pay

Stop pay is typically offered to drivers who will make multiple stops on their run. In general, stop pay does not include the initial or final destination. Like detention and layover pay, stop pay compensates for the time that drivers are not adding miles to their logbooks. More deliveries mean more time stopped and fewer miles. Stop pay helps make up the difference. 

Special Incentive Pay

Drivers can earn special incentive pay for loads that are more difficult because of location, border crossings, hazardous materials, or other non-typical duties. For example, tarp pay is not uncommon for flatbed drivers. Truck drivers who haul refrigerated loads may get a higher cent per mile rate. Similarly, there may be additional compensation for over-dimensional loads or routes in NY and NJ. Endorsements such as HazMat, Tanker, Doubles/Triples, or TWIC cards also frequently help drivers earn higher pay or bonuses.  

Bonuses

While base pay makes up the majority of a driver’s income, many people receive additional pay through bonuses. All companies choose their bonus structures a little differently. Some of the most common bonuses are for fuel, safety, and inspections. Many companies also offer hiring bonuses for signing on to their job or referral bonuses for bringing in new drivers. Performance and on-time delivery bonuses are also frequently used to incentivize drivers. 

Team Driver Pay

Like solo company drivers, team drivers most commonly receive pay based on mileage. For teams, the per-mile rate is a bit higher than for a solo driver, but team drivers share the rate.

The rate for each driver may be lower than for a solo company driver, but each person’s annual income is often higher because teams can drive significantly more miles.

Typically, team drivers split the mileage pay evenly. In some situations, each driver has a different per-mile rate. This may be based on experience or other similar factors. Team drivers may also qualify for bonuses if they reach certain mileage targets. 

Owner Operator Pay

Percentage pay is one of the most common types of income for owner operators. Typically, owner operators negotiate a percentage of the linehaul (gross revenue of the load minus the fuel surcharge). A load with a higher gross revenue means a better payout for the driver. Both independent owner-operators and lease to own operators can also expect to be paid all or almost all of the fuel surcharge. 

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2019 brought several proposed changes to Hours of Service Rules for truckers. Since then, those proposed HOS changes have been in a long review process with community input. Some of those same rules have already been modified under March’s Emergency Declaration to meet changing demands during COVID-19. Whether you love the changes or hate them, most of the updates from the end of last year are here to stay. 

The Final Rulings

There are four main changes that were added to the new HOS rules. Ultimately, the goal of each update is to improve safety and offer drivers more flexibility. On June 1, 2020, the final Hours of Service rule updates were released. The new HOS Ruling will officially take effect on September 29, 2020. Until then, the current HOS regulations from the Emergency Declaration will stay in place. 

“30-minute break” Flexibility

Before

The 30-minute break has been hotly debated among drivers since it was first issued. The FMCSA added the rule to improve safety, but it can force drivers to stop at inconvenient times. The old rules stated that drivers had to take a 30-minute break after 8 hours on duty. That time had to be logged as sleeper berth or off-duty. Many drivers don’t love the 30-minute break, but the new rules do bring some improvements.

Now

Under the updated Hours of Service Rule, drivers are required to take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving time. You can also now take your break as any combination of Off-Duty, Sleeper Berth, or On-Duty, Not Driving. It still has to be a continuous 30-minute break, but now there are more choices for how you can spend that time.

Split-Sleeper Berth

Before

We’ve voted this rule “Most Likely to Wish You Paid More Attention in Math Class.” The old version of the split-sleeper berth was pretty complicated. About Trucking does a good job explaining the details if you want the full picture. In a nutshell, drivers could split their sleeping time and were able to log driving time either before or after the break. Drivers then had to track how much time they had for the next shift and compare it to the 14-hour work shift clock. That might leave a driver with 5 hours of drive time available, but only 3 hours before hitting their maximum 14 hours. Ouch.

Now

Drivers can split their 10 off-duty hours into one period of 7+ hours in the sleeper berth and 2+ hours either off-duty or in the sleeper berth.

You can use that time for sleep or take advantage of the time to destress in other ways. Importantly, all breaks extend the 14-hour clock.

Whew. The mental math for hours just got easier. 

You may have seen the proposal for the “split-duty provision” aka the “14-hour pause” that was initially proposed. After hearing arguments on both sides, this update was ultimately not included in the final ruling due to safety concerns. 

Adverse Driving Conditions 

Before

Prior to the new Hours of Service rule, drivers were getting mixed messages about the policy for adverse driving conditions. Drivers could extend their drive time by up to 2 hours. That said, the 14-hour threshold was still a limiting factor. For example, even if your shipment got delayed due to unforeseen weather conditions and you were 30 minutes from delivering when you hit 14 hours, that’s where you had to stop. 

Now

Under the updated HOS rules, drivers can extend their drive time AND their 14-hour workday if needed. The extension can be no more than 2 hours but it gives drivers more flexibility in keeping their intended schedule. Even with the added time, pay close attention to road conditions and safety. If the weather gets really bad, make sure you know your rights as a driver.

Short Haul Exception

The Short Haul Exception applies only to CDL holders who run close to their home terminal AND do not run logbooks. If you don’t fit that description, this last update won’t affect you.

Before

The previous short haul rule stated that drivers who meet those criteria could drive a maximum of a 12-hour work shift and were limited to a radius of 100 miles from their terminal.

Now

The basic ideas behind the short haul exception have not changed. Instead, the time and radius maximums have been expanded. Drivers who meet the criteria of the short haul exception can now work 14 hours on-duty and with a radius of 150 miles. This rule won’t impact all drivers, but it may increase miles for anyone in this category.

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per diem for truck drivers

The new per diem regulations were passed in December of 2017 and took effect for the next year’s tax season. Even though that was 4 years ago, there’s still a lot of confusion about changes in per diem for truck drivers. There’s a lot of information and mis-information out there, so we’re here to make it a little simpler.

The per diem rules are all about costs on the road and how you get paid back. You work hard to make a living, and every dollar counts. Make sure you understand per diem for truck drivers to keep money in your pocket. Whether you’ve never been clear on how per diem works or you want a refresh, this is for you

1. Definition

In a nutshell, per diem is money given for any place you stay overnight, meals, and other incidental expenses.

Literally, per diem means “per day,” and you can think of it as a set amount that you will be reimbursed for certain expenses per day. The updated per diem regulations come from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 

2. How does Per Diem Actually Work?

Per diem is a form of reimbursement. If your company has a per diem allowance, you probably have to pay for meals on the road, and then they will reimburse you for that cost in your next paycheck. The money usually comes as a set amount or in proportion to the number of miles driven. Since you paid for those meals (or lodging, etc.) out of pocket, and your company is simply paying you back, that money is not considered taxable income. Good news for you! That distinction between per diem (which is a reimbursement) and income is important. It means that your adjusted gross income will be lower when it’s time to file taxes. And a lower adjusted gross income means that you will likely owe less in taxes or get a bigger refund. 

3. Impact for Company Drivers vs. Owner Operators

Company Drivers

income taxes

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, per diem for truck drivers has changed the most for company drivers. If you’re a company driver, you can no longer itemize deductions for your taxes. In other words, drivers cannot show all of the expenses that come from being on the road in the same way that you used to. Don’t worry though. You can often still receive per diem for the nights you’re away from home.

There are two ways the money you spend for your job comes back to you. First, most company drivers will make up a lot of that money by claiming the standard deduction, which doubled under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. For single tax filers, the standard deduction went from $6,300 to $12,000 and for couples filing jointly, it increased from $12,000 to $24,000. Second, some companies have increased their per diem wage. 

Here’s an example. If you get paid 55 cpm, and 45 cpm is a base wage and 10 cpm is considered per diem wage, that part of your income is not taxable. Now, if a company still pays 55 cpm, but 35 cpm is a base wage and 20 cpm is per diem wage, that would mean that 36% of your income would not be taxable.

A higher per diem wage means that your salary stays the same, but you will pay less in taxes. Companies should, however, be very careful to avoid wage recharacterization.

Owner Operators

Tax season for owner operators hasn’t changed as much in terms of per diem. Owner Operators can continue to claim per diem expenses more or less as usual. What is the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on owner operators? Actually, it’s a huge benefit. As an owner operator, you can continue claiming per diem and use the higher standard deduction rate. To do that, keep careful track of your work expenses. If you claim per diem for truck drivers in your taxes, you will need to individually list out, or itemize, all your costs. A little organization early on goes a long way when tax season rolls around.

4. So… Do Company Drivers get Per Diem Benefits?

trucking industry changesIn short, it depends on your company. If your company reimburses costs with a flat rate or a cpm increase in your salary, then yes—you are getting per diem benefits. If your company does not offer a flat rate or cpm increase for overnight stays, you can no longer claim those expenses as lost income on your taxes. You can claim the new standard deduction which is much higher and will help offset the money spent for food and lodging while on the road.

5. Eligibility 

Per diem programs can vary significantly by company. When you consider joining a new company, ask about their per diem policy. Our friend Leah Shaver, President & CEO of The National Transportation Institute (NTI), works closely with industry experts to track driver compensation, including per diem.

Leah shared, “[NTI’s] in-house research analysts and fleet executives collaborate to design, develop and deliver driver pay studies. One of those pay study subject matters is per diem and we find that many fleets offer this benefit in some form, either per day or per mile, some even on a percentage basis.”

Not all companies have a per diem plan, but these programs can be a benefit for both company drivers and owner operators. If there is a per diem program, find out whether you are eligible. This eligibility may be based on the number of miles you’ve driven, how long you’ve been with the company, or other similar criteria. Then, if you’re eligible, decide if joining the per diem program makes sense for you. 

6. When you get the money (Owner Operators)

Choosing to claim per diem for truck drivers as an owner operator can change when you will get the money for the costs of being on the road. 

Essentially: Do you pay for expenses and then get reimbursed in your next paycheck? Or Do you claim per diem in taxes (owner operators only) and get a bigger tax refund? If you participate in a company’s per diem program, you will be reimbursed throughout the year in your paychecks. If there is no per diem program or you choose to claim those expenses on your taxes, you will get a bigger tax return. At the end of the day, your take home pay (after all taxes) should be very similar.

Think of per diem as a decision of when to get the money and in what form, not of how much money you will get.

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lease purchase programs

For many drivers, becoming an Owner Operator is the gold standard of the trucking industry. Lease Purchase programs can be a great way to move toward that goal, but they’re not for everyone. If you’re considering a lease purchase program, make sure you read the fine print. Details are everything. Here’s what you need to know.

What and When

First things first: a lease purchase program is a program that allows drivers to buy a truck through an established carrier. Remember, lease purchase programs are not the same as lease operator programs.

Trucker NaeNae & her dog Jake

We spoke to Trucker Nae Nae, a Lease Operator, and she explained, “Lease operator has no money down but you return the truck at the end of the contract. Lease purchase [are] usually 10-14k down, higher payment and [drivers] keep truck at end of contract.”

Lease Purchase programs can be a great stepping stone on the way to becoming an owner operator. Take time to get to know the pros and cons of lease purchase programs. Ultimately, that will help you make the choice that is right for you.

Pros of Lease Purchase Programs

Finances

If you’re looking for a way to end up with a truck of your own, but aren’t ready to buy a rig outright, lease purchase is a good option. You will own your truck at the end and will have smaller down payments compared to buying a truck directly. Trucker Nae Nae notes that drivers can expect down payments of $10,000-14,000. While not small, that’s much more affordable than buying a used truck outright at an average cost of just over $40,000!

Monthly payments for lease purchase programs typically range from $300-$1,200/month.

In addition, drivers don’t need to establish an individual line of credit because the lease purchase agreement is through a carrier.

Choose Your Own Truck

Lease Purchase programs are the first step to completely owning your trucking career! As you consider what tractor to purchase, decide what type of hauls you want. Choose the truck that fits the direction of your career as well as your personal equipment preferences.

As you narrow down your list of potential lease purchase companies, make sure your top choices have enough loads for you. It’s critical that you get enough miles to support yourself, so choose a program that can prove they have sufficient loads for you.

Build A Strong Reputation

As an owner operator, one of your most important assets will be your reputation. Carrying freight for a lease purchase company is a great way to build a reputation as a reliable carrier. Some companies allow drivers to contract for other companies while under the lease purchase agreement. Start building your list of connections while working under the lease purchase agreement. By the time you own your own truck, you can apply for contracts with confidence and a good name.

Permits

Getting your own truck on the road is so much more than buying a rig. For one thing, all trucks have a series of required permits. Lease purchase programs typically provide those permits for anyone in their program. It’s a great way to save yourself from jumping through a few extra hoops. In addition, getting your permits through a company will get you on the road a little faster.

Get the Perks

If your lease purchase program is full service, ask about service and maintenance benefits! Some companies will keep a maintenance account for you. They may fully or partially cover the cost of preventative maintenance, training, or performance reporting. Read the contract on maintenance costs and perks particularly closely. If the leasing company does not offer a full-service program, be very clear on who is responsible for maintenance. If you are responsible, CDL Life recommends setting aside 15-25% of each paycheck to offset the cost.

Cons of Lease Purchase Programs

Making It Add Up

When you start the lease purchase journey, income might feel like a big question mark. First of all, your pay is likely to fluctuate as you adjust to the new position. And, you’re now responsible for making payments on the new lease! A Truth About Trucking survey found that many drivers were promised more miles than they actually received. Make sure your contract clearly states how many miles you can expect, so you can be confident that it meets your needs.

Navigating Contracts

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all contract that companies use for lease purchase agreements. There can be some pretty big differences between carriers, so make sure you read the fine print. When possible, get a second opinion from an attorney or other legal professional. Repairs and maintenance are two of the biggest costs – review these sections with a fine-tooth comb. Before you sign, make sure you understand the contract inside out. If you’re not sure about something, ask questions. Only agree to the contract when you feel confident that you understand the agreement.

Common Red Flags

If the lease purchase contract seems off for any reason, get a second opinion. When you look at the contract, there are a few common red flags to watch for.

  1. Unreasonably high missed payment penalty
  2. The company is pushing you to make a decision quickly or they don’t want you to get a second opinion
  3. You’re not sure whether you’ll be able to get enough miles
  4. There is a balloon payment at the end of the contract that essentially requires you to stay on with the same company even if you can technically pursue other jobs.

If you review a contract with any of these red flags and the company seems unwilling to negotiate, step away. There are many lease purchase companies to choose from, and you are likely saving yourself from trouble down the road.

The Takeaway

Lease Purchase Programs are a great way to make the leap to becoming an owner operator. When you choose a company, get to know the details. Look for carriers that allow you the freedom to run as you see fit (not tied to a central dispatcher). Also, check load boards to make sure they will have ample freight for you.

As you consider lease purchase programs, don’t forget about the business side. Are you ready to run your own company? Make sure you feel confident with your bookkeeping, taxes (don’t forget the 2290 Highway Use Tax), and other necessary paperwork. Similarly, understand how your payment for the lease purchase is made. Have you done your research and talked with drivers who have successfully completed the lease purchase program? Listen for any hesitation they might have as well as positive reviews of the program.

Whether to pursue a lease purchase program is a big decision. Ultimately, it will impact you as well as your family, especially if you are a parent.

Trucker Nae Nae

Trucker Nae Nae

Trucker Nae Nae shares her experience with making the transition, “I wanted to make sure I like my new career choice without having to worry about ownership. Now I am ready. For any lease, you will work to cover your payments with less time at home. Really consider your family life before signing the contract. It will be fine. It could be financially difficult to get home monthly.”

At the end of the day, this is a very personal decision. Remember, if anything seems not quite right, don’t sign the contract yet. You can walk away from a bad deal. Know your priorities going in, and you’ll find a program that is a great fit for you!

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cdl job change

Job changes are part of the natural evolution of a career. In the trucking industry, the turnover rate is high. Many drivers change jobs after only a year or two. Whether you’re new to the trucking industry, switching jobs after a layoff, or just looking for better employment, there are a few things to keep in mind for a CDL job change. 

1. Finding a New Job

The first question every driver has to answer when preparing for a CDL job change is, “Where do I find a new position?” Job boards are a tempting place to start, but they’re actually one of the least effective resources for finding a good job that fits your needs. Job boards are focused on quantity over quality. Drivers are matched with everything and anything (you’re probably not actually interested in that pizza delivery job when you’re an OTR driver).

Prioritize job resources that actually meet your professional qualifications and personal lifestyle preferences. Avoid job boards and choose better resources that will allow you to have a job AND a quality of life that you love.

Keep your ears open and ask other drivers which companies they love. Word of mouth is one of the best indicators of driver happiness in a job. Direct referrals from drivers are also a great option, and it might put a little money in someone’s pocket. If you want to expand your search, check out options like Drive My Way. We specifically match drivers with positions based on your skills, needs, and personal preferences. Don’t waste time on jobs that won’t be a good fit—apply only to the jobs that are a match for you.

2. Check the Boxes

As you prepare for a new job, there are a few housekeeping things to take care of. If you haven’t already, register for the FMCSA Clearinghouse. This allows future employers to easily complete the required pre-employment background check. If you are coming off a driving break, make sure all of your relevant endorsements are current. Obtaining an additional endorsement can also be a great way to boost your job prospects or earning potential. 

3. Transferring a CDL

A CDL license is valid for every state that drivers pass through, but your license does need to be issued from your state of residence. Even if you’re hauling freight in the same region, if you move to a new state, it’s time to head to the DMV. Typically drivers have 30-60 days from the time they move to a new state to complete a CDL transfer.

When you’re ready to transfer your CDL, here’s the list from Drive Big Trucks on what you need for the DMV.

  • Go to the DMV in a new state
  • Present proof of new address
  • Be prepared to retake part of the licensing exam and/or pay a licensing fee
  • Present a medical exam or certification to demonstrate your physical fitness
  • Complete a background/fingerprint check or drug test

Once you get the new license, the old one becomes invalid. It’s best to only carry your most current CDL license.

4. Preparation is the Best Strategy

As you prepare for a CDL job change, research the companies you’re interested in. Figure out what parts of a job are most important to you and figure out exactly how those aspects work.

When possible, make a point to talk with terminal managers, recruiters, and, most importantly, current drivers. Get the key details on home time, pay, hours, and any other elements that are important to you. 

5. Nailing the Interview

In the interview, your potential employer will likely ask questions that are about your license as well as about your experiences. Be clear and straightforward when answering questions about your endorsements, license, and work history. 

Some companies use a hiring practice called behavioral interviewing. This style of interviewing asks about how you have handled specific past situations. An example is, “Tell me about a time when you had to plan a complex route with multiple deliveries. What was the outcome and how did you handle it?”

When you answer this type of question, honestly consider your past successes and challenges. Use your experiences to highlight strengths and what you’ve learned from situations that didn’t go well. 

Once the interviewer has finished asking their questions, it’s your turn. Good jobs are a fit both for the company and for you as a driver. Know what you’re looking for, and use the interview to clarify any questions you have. 

6. Adventure and Anxiety

A CDL job change can be accompanied by a lot of internal (and often conflicting!) side effects. If you’re switching jobs for an exciting new opportunity, it might feel like a grand adventure. If you’re looking for a new job because of the current COVID-19 crisis or have been laid off for another reason, stress might feel like a constant companion. For drivers who have recently lost their job, our Displaced Driver Resources can help you navigate everything from health care to disability insurance and other unemployment resources. 

Regardless of why you’re switching jobs, there can be a lot of conflicting emotions. Excitement and anticipation for a new (and hopefully better!) job. Fear or anxiety about jumping into the unknown. 

Be sure to pursue companies that match both your professional qualifications and personal preferences. Then, you’ll have a lot to be excited about with a new position. New jobs often bring a work upgrade in some way whether that’s higher pay, more home time, or better company culture. As you prepare for your new position, hold on to the things that made you excited about the job in the first place.

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