Trucking provides a variety of opportunities for drivers, and each type of job has its own pros and cons. Many drivers begin their career with a large carrier, benefitting from available driver training and accumulating experience before moving on to a different driving job. When it’s time to make a change, it helps to know what types of driving jobs might be available — and what each type of job entails.
Most truck-driving jobs are classified as either over-the-road (OTR) or local. Another option, regional jobs, have elements of each type. The biggest difference is when the driver gets home.
Local driving jobs
Local drivers, for the most part, go to work and then come home every day, just like workers in offices or manufacturing facilities. Local drivers might make a series of pickups and deliveries in an area, or they might make longer runs that still allow them to return home without a rest break.
Pay for local driving positions is often less than what OTR drivers can make, because more drivers want the local jobs. Because drivers are home daily, road expenses for things such as meals, snacks and showers are greatly reduced.
When it comes to local deliveries, it’s important to understand that many companies do not offer paid breaks or overtime pay. That’s because transportation workers, in general, are not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act that guarantees these benefits. While some employers pay overtime, others do not.
Some local jobs, like petroleum transport, are usually paid a per load rate that varies depending on the round-trip mileage and other factors. Some, like hauling feed, gravel or logs, might be paid based on the weight of each load at delivery. Drivers may be encouraged to load beyond legal limits to increase their earnings.
Some local jobs require a good deal of physical labor. Grocery and beverage deliveries often require the driver to unload product and bring it inside stores or restaurant. In some cases, the driver is responsible for setting up and maintaining store displays.
Among the more desirable local positions are terminal shuttle runs for LTL carriers. Drivers often travel from terminal to terminal, perhaps delivering one trailer and bringing back another. These jobs frequently involve hauling double trailers. In some cases, drivers are required to run “peddle,” or local pickup and delivery, routes before earning a more desirable shuttle run.
OTR driving jobs
OTR drivers have many choices as well. OTR drivers stay away from home for days, weeks or even months at a time. That’s because OTR carriers are often classified as “irregular route” businesses. That means the truck goes wherever freight is headed at a profitable rate. Empty miles are unprofitable, so once a delivery is made, another paying load is found.
The ideal business scenario is when the truck takes the best paying load, regardless of destination, with the driver staying on the road for as long as there’s money to be made. There are, of course, other considerations, such as the need for driver home time, as well as repairs and maintenance to the truck.
Some drivers (and carriers) prefer taking the longest-distance load possible. Doing so reduces the number of pickups and deliveries necessary, allowing for some days when the driver can simply drive the legal number of hours and then shut down. The downside is that the driver could be thousands of miles from home, and it could take days — or weeks — to find a profitable load going that way.
Regional driving jobs
Regional runs are popular with drivers because the truck is usually within a one-day drive of home. Regional positions often offer weekend time at home, although the amount of time can vary, depending on the carrier.
The downside of regional work is that it often involves a delivery and a pickup on the same day. A common scenario is a morning delivery, followed by a short deadhead (traveling empty) run and a pickup of the next load. At carriers who pay by the mile, the time spent at receiver and shipper isn’t compensated. It isn’t uncommon for a driver to have six to eight hours or more invested in getting the trailer emptied and reloaded, followed by 10 or 11 hours of driving.
Regional runs can also be much shorter than can be driven in an 11-hour shift. Drivers who are paid by the mile often find they get less rest and take home less money.
“Dedicated” runs can be great — or not. Some dedicated runs entail picking up and delivering at the same locations every trip, while others might haul from a single location to multiple delivery points. Still others involve being dedicated to one particular customer, which may have multiple shipping locations and thousands of delivery points.
Another term most drivers are familiar with is “backhaul.” A backhaul is simply a load that gets the driver back to the starting point, or at least, close to it. For example, after hauling a load across the country from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, the driver might look for a load going back to the Atlanta area.
Unfortunately, backhauls often don’t pay well, so drivers who are paid by percentage won’t earn as much, and carriers who pay by the mile might look for a more profitable load, even if it’s headed in the opposite direction from home.
In some types of trucking — including tanker, auto and livestock hauling — drivers return empty more often than they find backhauls.
With all of the variables in trucking, it’s impossible to describe the conditions of every available job. The best advice for a driver looking for a change is to talk to drivers who hold or have held the position being considered. They have experienced the ups and downs and can explain the job without the “sales pitch” a company representative or recruiter might give.
When applying for a new job, it’s important for the driver to have a list of priorities and to discuss them with every potential employer before accepting a job. For example, one driver might value getting home more often, while another wants to stay out longer in order to maximize earnings. Both should clearly communicate their expectations, and take the job that helps them achieve their goals.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.