Truck Drivers – The Way of the Road

by Dallas Fridley

January 9, 2020

Dave Dudley sang about life on the road, weaving stories about truckers’ lives, and slipping in some fancy trucker lingo. Dudley’s biggest hit, Six Days on the Road, is a genre defining tribute to the trucker that charted second as a country single and reached 32nd on Top 40 radio way back in the summer of 1963. Not every occupation needs or even deserves its own sub-genre of music and although “trucker-billy” has taken on a life of its own, its stories still honor the trucker. And there’s much more to trucking and truck driving than “10-forward gears” and a “Georgia overdrive,” as truck driving can lead to a high-wage job that requires little education past high school to begin.

Education and Training

Listen up you “four-wheelers.” Although any good trucker has learned a few life lessons on the road, a Commercial Driver’s License or CDL is required to drive a “big-rig” whether on the “big road” or heading “through the woods” with a “clean shot.” In general terms, a CDL is required for the operation of vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds, for vehicles carrying 16 or more passengers, or for vehicles used to transport hazardous materials. A CDL comes in three classes with a variety of endorsement and restriction codes. There are of course minimum requirements concerning age, vision, and driving record, to name a few.

In addition to heavy trucks or “big-rigs,” the truck driver occupation also covers light truck or delivery service drivers, like “Buster Brown.” Light truck or delivery services drivers generally do not require a CDL and the typical entry level education is a high school diploma or equivalent.

Truckers usually start their career with a postsecondary certificate and no work experience and they receive less than one month on-the-job training. Truck and bus driver/commercial vehicle operator and instructor training is a program that can prepare you for a career as a heavy and tractor-trailer truck driver. Private trade schools also offer truck driving instruction and CDL training.

Where They Work and Work Environment

Lookin’ at the world through a windshield. That’s not a warning, it’s another classic trucker song. “I've pushed this rig through sleet and rain. And I've driven through the rough terrain.” If you “semi-pros” are ready to slide over to the “50 dollar lane,” here’s the low-down on the typical work environment, straight from your fellow trucker:

  • In an enclosed vehicle or equipment – 88% responded “every day.”
  • Duration of typical work week – 84% responded “more than 40 hours.”
  • Outdoors, exposed to weather – 76% responded “every day.”
  • Time pressure – 69% responded “every day.”
  • Very hot or cold temperatures – 60% responded “every day.”
  • “Hundred mile coffee?” – 100% responded “you bet!”
Source: O*NET OnLine

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the hours that a long-haul truck driver may work. Drivers may work for 14 hours straight, with up to 11 hours spent driving and the remaining time doing other work, such as unloading cargo. Drivers must have at least 10 hours off duty and are limited to 60 hours over seven work days or 70 hours within eight days. A 34-hour break from driving is required before a driver can start another seven- or eight-day run.

Light truck or delivery services drivers share some of the same work place attributes but can expect more frequent contact with others.
  • Contact with others – 76% responded “constant contact with others.”
  • In an enclosed vehicle or equipment – 84% responded “every day.”
  • Time pressure – 74% responded “every day.”
  • Face-to-face discussions – 67% responded “every day.”
  • Frequency of decision making – 68% responded “every day.”
Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers have physically demanding jobs. When loading and unloading cargo, drivers do a lot of lifting, carrying, and walking. Driving in congested traffic or adhering to strict delivery timelines can also be stressful.

Job Duties

Now it’s time to put the “hammer down.” Besides listening to trucker songs, here’s a short list of duties a “big-rig” driver can expect:
  • Inspect motor vehicles.
  • Follow safety procedures for vehicle operation.
  • Record operational or production data.
  • Inspect cargo to ensure it is properly loaded or secured.
  • Record service or repair activities.
Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers’ routes are assigned by a dispatcher or “travel agent” in trucker lingo, but some independent drivers still plan their own routes. When planning routes, drivers must take into account any road restrictions that prohibit large trucks. In addition to their driving tasks, owner-operators have business tasks, like securing clients and completing administrative work. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association estimates that there are 350,000 independent owner-operators registered in the U.S.

Some drivers have one or two routes that they drive regularly, and other drivers take many different routes throughout the country. In addition, some drivers have routes that include Mexico or Canada. Some heavy truck drivers transport hazardous materials and must follow rules that apply specifically to them.

Here’s a list of duties for light truck or delivery services drivers:
  • Follow safety procedures for vehicle operation.
  • Receive information or instructions for performing work assignments.
  • Read maps to determine routes.
  • Verify information or specifications.
  • Load shipments, belongings, or materials.
Drivers may receive instructions to go to a delivery location at a particular time or have a regular daily or weekly delivery schedule. Driver/sales workers are delivery drivers who also have sales responsibilities. Pickup and delivery drivers operate small trucks or vans from distribution centers to delivery location, other drivers make deliveries from a retail location to customers.

Employment Outlook and Earnings

Oregon’s truck driver occupations employed around 34,800 operators in 2017. About 24,300 truckers or 70 percent worked as heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers and the remaining 30 percent worked as light truck or delivery service drivers.

Job growth is expected to be about average for heavy truck drivers, at 11 percent, while light truck drivers will grow above average, adding 17 percent between 2017 and 2027. The real demand for truckers will come from replacement openings mostly due to retirements as the workforce ages. Heavy truck drivers will see around 2,700 job openings annually for replacement needs and light duty an addition 1,200.
On a regional basis, nearly 60 percent of Oregon’s light truck or delivery service drivers worked in the tri-county Portland area (Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties). Heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers were more evenly distributed, with 45 percent dispatched in tri-county Portland.

Big-rig truckers earned a higher hourly wage than their light duty counterparts. On average a heavy and tractor trailer truck driver earned $23.64 per hour in 2019. Hourly wages ranged from a low or starting wage (10th percentile) of $16.77 to a high or experienced wage (90th percentile) of $32.62. The median hourly wage (half above and half below) paid $22.82, about 3 percent below the average wage. Regionally, big-rig truckers in Clackamas County earned the highest average hourly wage, at $28.16, while the Columbia Gorge trailed significantly at just $18.74 per hour.

Light truck or delivery service drivers earned an average hourly wage of $18.88 in 2019, compared with a median of $17.10. Experienced drivers earned up to $29.14 per hour while the entry level started at around $12.22. The Columbia Gorge stood out again – but this time for the highest regional wage, averaging $22.54 per hour. Agricultural products could be one reason why big-rig truckers earned less than light duty in the Columbia Gorge. The Rogue Valley paid the lowest regional wage, averaging $16.87 per hour.

Transportation and warehousing employed more than half (55%) of Oregon’s heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers. Wholesale trade (14%), construction (6%), and manufacturing (6%) together employed around one out of four of the state’s big-rig truckers. Transportation and warehousing likewise ranked first for its 41 percent share of light truck and delivery service drivers. Retail trade (18%), wholesale durable goods (9%), and manufacturing (5%) together employed around one out of three light duty drivers.

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