What Is It Like To Be A OTR Driver?
While taking a taxi to the airport I got involved in a conversation with the driver about what it was like to be a driver. He told me that he used to be an OTR or over-the-road driver. The most interesting part of the discussion was when he pointed out that virtually everything you have in your home or business got there because it was delivered by a truck. It’s one of those things people completely forget about, but when you step back and think about it it’s a no-brainer.
If you are considering a career as an OTR driver, you can take this piece of knowledge and wake up every morning knowing the importance of your job. It is a responsibility as well. Let’s take a tour through the world of an OTR driver.
First, there are the qualifications. If you don’t like being on the road for long stretches you should consider a different line of work. Though much of the driving will be within the United States, you may be required to drive to Canada or Mexico, which means you will have to learn their Rules of the Road. Finally, you should expect to encounter a “learning curve,” which means you will have to learn a lot through experience. Taking the time to evaluate yourself will help you decide whether it is the right direction for your career.
Expect to be driving everywhere and anywhere for long stretches – generally several weeks at a time. You will have to adjust your lifestyle so if there are delays, such as inclement weather or major accidents, arriving back at home later than expected is not a major problem. If you have a family, this can be the greatest adjustment you will have to make. For you as a driver, it generally requires you to be in decent physical shape (despite what you may see in the movies). You will have to be mentally alert as well.
Before jumping into the cab you will have to go through a training course that will approve you as an OTR driver. The certification, known as a CDL, or Commercial Driver License, is required by law. The good news is that once you get your CDL you can go to work immediately. The training course will challenge you, in part because experienced CDL drivers say that physically learning to drive a truck can be the hardest part of being an OTR trucker.
Driving stretches generally last between 8 and 10 hours a day. You will be alone on the road for those stretches, and getting used to this routine will take some time. Expect some part of those 10 hours to be night driving, which any driver can tell you is much different than driving during the daylight hours. In many ways you are your own boss. You will be expected to create your own driving plan to make sure your deliveries arrive on time. Scheduling time for breaks, time for eating, and being aware of traffic and weather conditions all are part of being a solid OTR driver.
The more experience you rack up as an OTR driver, the better your OTR experience is likely to be. Companies naturally prefer experienced drivers to transport their loads, and that means you can expect to get the better choices of pickups and routes as you add up the hours of OTR experience. Even if you work for a company as an OTR driver, and not as an independent, companies generally follow the same “pecking order” in giving their assignments. Earlier the issue of responsibility was mentioned, and the OTR driver will have the responsibility of delivering products on time to meet company contract agreements. So you can add stress to your list of OTR experiences.
But the total experience of an OTR driver is not all about work. You will be able to explore the entire country and get paid for it, seeing places and meeting people that most people will never come to know. You will be able to stay connected with friends and family if you equip yourself with the right technology, so while you may not be able to physically be at home, you can share what is going on in your lives each and every day. Your family will not have to worry if you are OK. But yes, there is also a work aspect to technology. Expect to be required to have a cell phone or smartphone to be available to communicate with the company, the customer, the dispatcher, and in case of emergency.
The famous trucker stops will become a welcome sight during your OTR travels. Besides having a place to eat other than Mickey D’s or Denny’s, more than a few stops are known to favor truckers as their best diners. You are appreciated, and some people are more aware of your value than others.
Finally, with all the adjustments you will have to make, there is still the time when you will return home. It is likely you will return home – tired and looking forward to not driving. If you have a family, making the best use of your days off is essential to completing the adjustment to OTR driving. Experienced truckers recommend getting into the habit early to make your transition to being an OTR driver much easier in the long haul.
Those are the basics of what it is like to be an OTR driver. As with most things in life, there are benefits and some drawbacks. Finding a balance is key to being a successful, and profitable, OTR driver. Being honest with yourself and your family is the best approach.