Truck drivers provide an essential service to industrialized societies by transporting finished goods and raw materials over land, typically from manufacturing plants to retail or distribution centers. Truck drivers are also responsible for the inspection and maintenance of the vehicle used. Others, such as Driver/Sales workers, are also responsible for sales and customer service.
There are two major types of truck driver employment:
Both owner operators/owner driver and company drivers can be in these categories.
All drivers are bound by laws limiting the amount of time they can work to prevent driver fatigue.
In the European Union, drivers working hours are regulated by EU regulation (EC) No 561/2006 which entered into force on April 11, 2007. The non-stop driving time may not exceed 4.5 hours. After 4.5 hours of driving the driver must take a break period of at least 45 minutes. however, this can be split into 2 breaks, the first being at least 15 minutes, and the second being at least 30 minutes in length. The weekly driving time may not exceed 56 hours. In addition to this, a driver cannot exceed 90 hours driving in a fortnight.
In the United States, the hours of service (HOS) are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are not allowed to drive more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period, which then must be followed by a 10-hour break. Drivers are not allowed to drive more than 70 hours within a period of 8 days. Drivers must complete a logbook documenting time spent driving. The logbook must be kept current, and must be presented to law enforcement officials upon demand.
In Australia, drivers of trucks and truck and trailer combinations with gross vehicle mass greater than 12 tonnes must rest for 30 minutes every 5 hours and stop for 10 hours of sleep for every 14 hours of work (includes driving and non-driving duties). After 72 working hours (not including time spent resting or sleeping) a driver must spend 24 hours away from his/her vehicle. Truck drivers must complete a logbook documenting hours and kilometres spent driving.
In Australia heavy vehicle licences are issued by the states but are a national standard; there are 5 classes of licence required by drivers of heavy vehicles:
A person must have a C class (car) licence for 1 year before they can apply for an LR or MR class licence and 2 years before they can apply for an HR, to upgrade to an HC class licence a person must have an MR or HR class licence for 1 year and to upgrade to an MC class licence a person must have an HR or HC class licence for 1 year.
In the UK, one or more of the categories of Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) licenses is required. This is still widely known as an HGV or Heavy Goods Vehicle license after its former name.
The United States employs a truck classification system, and truck drivers are required to have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) to operate a CMV weighing in excess of 26,000 pounds. Although some state motor vehicle departments administer the CDL program, most are tested through a third party organization. Acquiring a CDL requires a skills test (driving test), and knowledge test (written test) covering the unique handling qualities of driving a large, heavily loaded 18-wheeler, and the mechanical systems required to operate such a vehicle (air brakes, suspension, cargo securement).
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) spells out the various classes of CDLs and the requirements to obtain one.
A CDL can also contain separate endorsements required to operate certain trailers or to haul certain goods. These abbreviations appear as "endorsements" on the license and often appear in advertisements outlining the requirements for such jobs.
If a driver either fails the air brake component of the general knowledge test or performs the skills test in a vehicle not equipped with air brakes, the driver is issued an air brake restriction, restricting the driver from operating a CMV equipped with air brakes.
Specifically, the five-axle tractor-semitrailer combination that is most commonly associated with the word "truck" requires a Class A CDL to drive. Beyond that, the driver's employer (or shipping customers, in the case of an independent owner-operator) generally specifies what endorsements their operations require a driver to possess. Truck drivers are considered technical professionals because they are required to obtain specialized education and professional licensure. At some truck driving schools, the required training can be completed in as little as three weeks.
Truck drivers are responsible for checking their own vehicle's axle and gross weights, usually by paying to be weighed at a truck stop scale. Truck weights are then checked by state authorities at a weigh station.
Commercial motor vehicles are subject to various state and federal laws regarding limitations on truck length (measured from bumper to bumper), and truck axle length (measured from axle to axle or fifth wheel to axle for trailers). The relationship between axle weight and spacing, known as the Federal Bridge Gross Weight Formula, is designed to protect bridges.
A standard 18-wheeler consists of three axle groups: a single front (steering axle), the tandem (dual) drive axles, and the tandem trailer axles. Federal weight limits for NN traffic are:
The FMCSA regulates the length, width, and weight limits of CMVs for interstate commercial traffic. Interstate commercial traffic is generally limited to a network of interstate freeways and state highways known as the National Network (NN). Provided the truck remains on the NN, they are not subject to the state limits. State limits (which can be lower or higher than federal limits) come into effect for intrastate commercial traffic, provided the vehicle is not on the NN. There is no federal height limit, and states may set their own limits which range from 13 feet 6 inches (mostly on the east coast) to 14 feet (west coast). As a result, the majority of trucks are somewhere between 13' 6" and 14' high. Truck drivers are also responsible for checking bridge height clearances (usually indicated by a warning sign). Not having enough vertical clearance, resulting in a "top out," can be a serious detriment to a driver's record.
Beginning in 1980, the administration of president Ronald Reagan proposed to put an end to drug abuse in the trucking industry with the then-recently developed technique of urinalysis, in a move to require regular random drug testing of all truck drivers nationwide.
However, it was decided that implementing the measure at too great a speed could result in a shortage of truck drivers, which could in turn plunge the nation's economy into a recession, or worse, a depression. In the early 1980s, random drug testing was begun, and in the following years and decades was increased more and more at a gradual rate. Since that time, a large number of tractor-trailer operators have left the industry in search of other employment and a new generation of drivers has come in. It has now become extremely difficult for truck drivers to engage in drug use and remain undetected.
In 2006, the U.S. trucking industry as a whole employed 3.4 million drivers. A major problem for the long-haul trucking industry is that a large percentage of these drivers are aging, and are expected to retire. Very few new hires are expected in the near future, resulting in a driver shortage. Currently, within the long-haul sector, there is an estimated shortage of 20,000 drivers. That shortage is expected to increase to 111,000 by 2014. Trucking (especially the long-haul sector) is also facing an image crisis due to the long working hours, long periods of time away from home, the dangerous nature of the work, the relatively low pay (compared to hours worked), and a "driver last" mentality that is common throughout the industry.
Employee turnover within the long-haul trucking industry is notorious for being extremely high. In the 4th quarter of 2005, turnover within the largest carriers in the industry reached a record 136%, which means for every 100 new employees hired, 136 drivers quit their jobs.
Drivers are expected to follow the hours of service rules set forth by the DOT. A majority of long-haul drivers are paid by the mile, not by the hour. Consequently, these drivers receive no overtime pay for hours worked in excess of the standard forty-hour work week.
For these reasons, a number of drivers choose to break the rules and drive longer than is allowed, putting their health and safety, as well as other drivers on the road, at risk. Frequent slow-downs such as breakdowns, traffic jams, long hours spent loading and unloading, getting put "out of service" by the DOT due to equipment violations, combined with the relatively high expense of living away from home for long periods of time, also provide incentive for breaking the rules.
Drivers can get away with this rule-breaking due to their paper-based log books. As a driver records their time spent behind the wheel, there is very little to stop them from forging (commonly known as "fudging") their log books. There is very superficial oversight and some drivers take advantage of this fact. As a response to this, one company, Werner Enterprises, has implemented electronic on-board recorders (EOBR) which automatically record the driving time and cannot be forged. Any violation of the HOS will automatically be recorded and reported to the company which will result in almost immediate discipline or termination of employment. As a result of their success with EOBRs, the FMCSA is considering making them mandatory for all motor carriers.
Due to the high demands of the job, O/O's are known to work for months at a time without taking days off to go home. Some of them even prefer to forgo a traditional house, and take up permanent residence within the truck (usually with the largest sleeper berth, equivalent to a small RV). Long-haul company drivers often receive as little as one day off for every week of work, such as working for four weeks and taking four days off. Regional drivers (who often drive dedicated routes between the same locations) usually work five days a week, and receive weekends off. LTL drivers most often work normal hours and do not sleep in their trucks, having nights (or days, depending on the shift worked) and weekends off.
From 1992–1995, truck drivers had a higher total number of fatalities than any other occupation, accounting for 12% of all work related deaths. Truck drivers are five times more likely to die in a work related accident than the average worker. Highway accidents accounted for a majority of truck driver deaths, most of them caused by confused drivers in passenger vehicles who are unfamiliar with large trucks.
Truck drivers often spend their nights parked at a truck stop, rest area, or on the shoulder of a freeway ramp. Sometimes these can be in secluded areas or dangerous neighborhoods, which account for a number of deaths due to drivers being targeted by thieves for their valuable cargo or money. Drivers of trucks towing flatbed trailers are responsible for securing and strapping down their cargo (which often involves climbing onto the cargo itself), which accounts for a number of deaths and injuries from falling. Drivers spend long hours behind the wheel, which can cause strain on the back muscles. Some drivers are responsible for unloading their cargo, which can lead to many back strains and sprains due to overexertion and improper lifting techniques.
Most companies today utilize some type of satellite vehicle tracking or trailer tracking to assist in fleet management, and for increased productivity. This allows a driver to input the information from a bill of lading (BOL) into a simple dot matrix display screen (commonly called a "Qualcomm", for their ubiquitous OmniTRACS system). This also allows the driver to communicate with their dispatcher, who is normally responsible for determining and informing the driver of their pick-up and drop-off locations.
The driver inputs the information, using a keyboard, into an automated system of pre-formatted messages known as macros. There are macros for each stage of the loading and unloading process, such as "loaded and leaving shipper" and "arrived at final destination". This system also allows the company to track the drivers fuel usage, speed, gear optimization, engine idle time, location, direction of travel, and amount of time spent driving.
Werner Enterprises, a U.S. company based in Omaha, Nebraska, has utilized this system to implement a "paperless log" system. Instead of keeping track of working hours on a traditional pen and paper based logbook, the driver informs the company of his status using a macro.
Truck drivers once had a highly elaborate vocabulary of slang for use over their CB radios, but with the high turnover in the industry in recent decades, this has all but vanished. Most of the newer generation of drivers in the U.S. today speak to one another over their CB radios in more or less standard English (as understood in the various regions of the country), although a few of the slang words and phrases have remained, and many of these have passed into use in the colloquial language of the general public.
“Smokey” and “bear” are still used to refer to police officers, especially state patrolmen (and sometimes “diesel bear” for a DOT officer), though many new-school drivers merely say “police,” “policeman” and “cop.” “Hammer” still refers to the accelerator pedal, and “hammer lane” the left lane or passing lane on a freeway, in which traffic generally travels faster. “Handle”, meaning a nickname, was once exclusively truck-driver slang, but has now passed into common use by the public, especially for pseudonyms used on the Internet. Most of the “ten codes” have been discontinued, except “10/4,” meaning “message received,” “affirmative,” “okay,” “understood,” which is still commonly used, and occasionally "10/20," referring to the driver's location.
While not slang, one form of communication between drivers is to flash headlights or high beams on or off to indicate that a passing truck has cleared the passed vehicle and may safely change lanes. The passing driver may then flash the trailer or marker lights to indicate gratitude. This practice is sometimes also understood by the public; drivers of smaller vehicles occasionally use it to signal truck drivers as well.
Additionally, there is variation in the meanings of hand gestures within the industry. In the U.S., when passing it is common for drivers to greet by lifting a hand off the steering wheel, backhand facing the other driver, with the index and middle fingers extended (known as the peace sign, or V sign), a gesture that in the UK would be equivalent to the raising of the middle finger at someone. However, this meaning in England is largely unknown by Americans, and among American truck drivers it is intended as a friendly gesture of greeting between fellow workers in the industry.
Some truck-driver slang:
Truck drivers have been the subject of many films, such as They Drive By Night (1940), but they became an especially popular topic in popular culture in the mid-1970s, following the release of White Line Fever, and the hit song "Convoy" by C.W. McCall, both in 1975. The main character of "Convoy" was a truck driver known only by his CB handle (C.B. name), "Rubber Duck." Three years later, in 1978, a film was released with the same name. In 1977, another film Smokey and the Bandit, was released, which revolves around the escapades of a truck driver and his friend as they transport a load of beer across state lines. Smokey and the Bandit spawned two sequels. The 1978 film F.I.S.T. was a fictionalized account of the unionization of the trucking industry in the earlier 20th century, while the future of truck driving was speculated on in the 1996 film Space Truckers in which trucking has gone beyond planetary loads to interplanetary ones. One episode of Cowboy Bebop, "Heavy Metal Queen", also features space-faring "truck" drivers.
B.J. and the Bear was a television series depicting the exploits of a truck driver and his chimpanzee companion. Another was Movin' On, starring Claude Akins and Frank Converse. Trucker Buddy is a lovable (albeit terrifying) trucker that makes appearances in The Mediocre Show. That character should not be confused with Trucker Buddy, the non-profit international penpal organization (www.truckerbuddy.org) in which truck drivers are teamed with an elementary school class from 2nd-8th grade. Drivers send weekly postcards and write letters describing the trucking industry, lifestyle, and travel, and sometimes even make classroom visits so the kids can meet 'their driver' in person and see a big rig up close! T.B.I. was founded in the 1992 by the late Gary King and now has a membership of nearly 4000 drivers with classrooms throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland.
On 17 June 2007, the History Channel began to air Ice Road Truckers, a documentary-style reality television series following truck drivers as they drive across the ice roads (frozen lakes in mid-winter), in the Northwest Territories in Canada, as they transport equipment to the diamond mines in that area.