by Pride Transport | Nov 13, 2020
The image is pretty standard, the smiling guy behind the wheel rolling down the highway, maybe he has a cap on, but he looks determined and relaxed behind the wheel of the big rig. To be truthful, most times, the drivers of trucks are anonymous. Cars zip by, not knowing what it takes to operate one of these road giants, and the driver is above them, out of sight, so all they see is A TRUCK!
Movies have given us the image of truck drivers as heroes bucking a system that keeps money out of their pockets and hinders their American dream. These hard-driving, tough-talking denizens of the open road play by their own rules and have nothing but freedom in front of them. It’s an excellent idea, a romantic image, but how true is it?
There is an open road, and there is a great deal of freedom, but what is a day in a truck driver’s life truly like?
What drivers face
A truck driver’s life at work is all about schedules and meeting deadlines. It’s about staying on the road as long as possible while keeping an eye on the Department of Transportation regulations about hours and windows of driving time. A driver has to deal with weather, traffic, bad drivers in cars, and demanding schedules that add pressure and stress to an already stressful job.
The morning is early. A driver may start their day anywhere between 3 am, and 5 am most days. If they are already on the road, they start from a rest area or a truck stop. If they are beginning a route, they are at the hub picking up a load—no matter what, the day starts pretty much the same.
Drivers spend the morning checking the weather and traffic along their intended route. They may also plot alternate routes if they see traffic, or there is road work on the way. Once they have the route sorted out, they do an inspection. This is akin to what a pilot does preflight, checking all gauges and equipment to ensure everything is in working order for the day ahead.
Drivers then gas up; morning is the best time to put gas in the tank, and … so it begins.
Any number of things can go wrong when a driver is on the road, some can be anticipated, and some, well, they’re just the universe doing its thing. A pre-drive check is imperative to make sure everything is in perfect working order before the drive starts.
Once a driver is on the road, they are on the road. This means many hours of driving and dealing with the road’s hazards, other drivers, weather, accidents, and whatever the world wants to throw at them. All the while, they are under pressure to keep to a very tight schedule.
While driving, they may listen to books on tape, music, or even chat on the CB radio but, there’s not a lot of romantic stories or tales of daring-do; they are driving an 80,000-pound dinosaur down the highway. They have to be alert and vigilant all the time. Most people who share the road with trucks have no idea what it takes to operate one, and believe us; truck drivers really wish they did.
The day may consist of stopping to rest, having some food, or just getting out of the cab to stretch the legs or take a brisk walk.
For a driver, the days are long, no two ways about it. The day’s length varies due to several factors; route, availability of rest areas and food, weather, traffic, road hazards, just to name a few. The Department of Transportation allows drivers 11 hours of actual driving per day, and it has to fall within a 14-hour window. This means a driver can work 11 hours a day, but any driving completed over that limit will incur some severe penalties.
So it breaks down this way; if you have nine hours of driving time per day, your actual time on the road, away from home, could be longer. One or more breaks for food or rest and your day gets long. It’s also important to remember a driver gets paid only when they’re driving, so more breaks or stops not only lengthens the day it cuts into the driver’s profitability.
End of the day
After a long day on the road, when evening comes, it’s time to find a place to pull off and rest. If they have a sleeper, they’ll spend the night in the cab. They are usually making food in an electric cooker or a microwave if they’ve packed food. Saving money on the road is essential for drivers, so they have to plan meals and pack them along with snacks and beverages for the long haul. One of the problems with driving is finding inexpensive, healthy foods to stay healthy while working.
When the evening meal is done, a driver may shower at a truck stop or rest area, they may read or listen to music, but they usually hit the sack early because they’re up early to start it all over again.
Evenings are also an excellent time to connect with family and friends; phone calls, text messages, or online chat sessions keep drivers connected to the reason they do all this, family. Connecting with family and friends while away from home for long scratches is vital for a driver’s mental health. Nothing like a friendly voice and some kind words to melt away the day’s stress.
The whole picture
Driving a truck is a challenging job, simple as that. Of course, it has its rewards, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but, like any job, there are parts of it that are less appealing than other parts. The days are long, starting early and ending late, and the bulk of that day is spent driving up to 11 hours. On top of that, tight schedules must be met, and traffic and weather delays are in constant opposition to those schedules. Also, a truck driver needs to be constantly aware and vigilant; most times, they’re covering other drivers’ mistakes on the road.
The better part of a driver’s work life is solitary; most days pass with minimal human interaction. For some, that can be a challenge. But, modern technology has given drivers more ways to connect so the solitude can be held at bay until they’re home again.
Many carriers, large and smaller, are making serious efforts to address and rectify the parts of the job that are less appealing. Better outing to keep drivers close to home and more flexible pick-up and delivery windows are a good start. These carriers are also taking steps to make the business safer and more accommodating for female drivers, a great, mostly untapped resource for the trucking industry.
As for wages, the trucking industry has indeed lagged behind other sectors for a few decades but, that is changing. Employers have made significant increases in wages to help retain good drivers. Truck driving remains one of the best paying jobs for non-college-educated individuals. There is also a relatively low barrier of entry for most people.
The challenges, the solitary lifestyle, the times away from home, and the miles of road ahead, drivers deal with these in their way. They talk to each other, and they support each other. They put pictures of family in their cabs, some even travel with their pets, which goes a long way to keep them mentally healthy. Having your best furry friend in the cab with you can make a huge difference in life on the road.
Something more, something unspoken, and something that cannot be advertised in a job posting. Truck drivers keep this country going. The tonnage of cargo they move every day is mind-blowing to those outside the industry. Everything you touch in the grocery store or Target has, at some point, been on a truck. Our country would grind to a halt in a matter of weeks if no trucks were moving the goods we need every day. Drivers know that, and they take quiet pride in the fact that they keep this nation going.
A sense of duty may seem like an arcane ideal to some when making money, and getting the corner office appears to be the American dream. Responsibility to others, the country, and pride in accepting that duty and doing it well, that’s what truck drivers carry with them. That’s what’s unspoken. That’s why we call them heroes of the road. Maybe that feeling doesn’t make it on the recruitment poster because truck drivers aren’t, by nature, people who brag about what they do, they just do. But drivers handle the road’s challenges, keep the country supplied, spend time alone, and do it simply because they know it has to be done. And that is all in a day’s work.