11 Things you probably didn’t know about professional drivers

By Ellen Voie CAE, President/CEO, Women In Trucking Association, Inc.

If you’re not involved in the trucking industry, you might not understand what life is like as a professional driver and more importantly, how this job affects your lifestyle. The public perception of professional drivers has often been based on misunderstanding due to the media and movie industry’s portrayal of these hard-working men and women.

Here are eleven things you probably didn’t know about professional drivers, but should.

#1. Driving a truck for a living is not an easy job. You can’t just hop into a tractor-trailer and take it out on the highway without extensive training. It’s not an unskilled job that just anyone can do. It takes time and effort to learn how to shift and how to turn corners and how to back the trailer. Recently the Federal Motor Carrier Administration created minimum driver training requirements for truck and bus operators. You should try backing a 53 foot trailer into a dock. It’s not easy!

#2. Being a professional driver isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. When you go to work each morning and return home at night, your kids might not even know what you do or even if you were to change jobs or careers, because it doesn’t affect them in the same way it will affect the child of a professional driver. Drivers with kids miss many important events because they are away from home often.

#3. Just because you are away from home a lot doesn’t mean you are unfaithful or that your marriage is in trouble. People often judge a family situation based on their own. So, if they think a driver stays away because he or she is unhappy, it’s their perception. Many folks still assume that drivers are unfaithful because they travel often and have the opportunity to cheat on a spouse. Please know that cheating is related to a person’s values, not time apart from a significant other.

#4. A driver can’t just make plans for a week from Thursday because they don’t know if they’ll be home or not. This one was always one of the most difficult aspects of the trucking lifestyle to explain. A driver’s family cannot RSVP to a wedding or class reunion in the future, so it’s just easier to decline the invitation. People just don’t understand how unpredictable a job can be when you’re delivering loads around the country.

#5. Remember who is the professional! If you have the choice of driving alongside a family in an SUV in a snowstorm, or running alongside an eighteen-wheeler, choose the big rig. These professionals are well trained and more observant. When people complain about big trucks sharing the highway, I remind them that the professional is the one who is more capable and trustworthy on the road than those drivers with less training. While the number of miles traveled by large trucks continues to increase, the truck fatal crash rate continues to decrease.

#6. Yes, trucks do own the road! Without trucks paying for the taxes that fund road projects, the highways wouldn’t be the same. From fuel taxes to IRS taxes, to tolls to mileage taxes, the trucking industry pays for the roads and their upkeep. In 2014, the trucking industry paid $18.4 billion in total federal highway user taxes. Four-wheeler drivers just don’t realize how little they pay, and don’t remind me about how those electric vehicles aren’t paying any fuel taxes for our roads!

#7. If you truly understood, you’ll know that a professional driver keeps your kitchen stocked, your car’s tank filled, and your children clothed. You might not understand logistics or supply chain, but you should appreciate how the trucking industry allows you to enjoy the products you use every day. Trucks haul over 73 percent of all commodities in America compared to a little over three percent by trains.

#8. Professional drivers are not just driving a truck until they find something better. For some, being a professional driver is the job of last resort, but for most, it’s your career. Sure, there are people who are always looking for something that pays better and allows them to have a different lifestyle, but not all drivers are seeking a way out. Currently in America, there are 3.5 million professional drivers and the need for more drivers continues.

#9. Not all drivers are men! Women comprise nearly seven percent of the driver population, but this number is growing. As carriers upgrade equipment, work harder to create better work life balance for their drivers and ensure the driver isn’t touching the freight, the job is becoming more accessible to women and others who once thought all truck drivers were big, burly white guys!

#10. Trucks aren’t just diesel engines and smoke stacks. In fact, the amount of technology in a truck today is staggering. From lane departure warnings, in cab cameras, automated dollies, air ride seats and automatic transmissions, the truck itself is becoming easier to operate. Check out the dash of a semi-tractor and you’ll see as many gauges as in some airplanes.

#11. Truck drivers do not pollute the air. EPA regulations have initiated changes to commercial vehicles resulting in a 45 percent decrease in emissions in the past decade. From nitrogen oxide to particulate matter emissions, the trucking industry is helping to keep the air cleaner for everyone.

The trucking industry is massive and employs more than seven million people in driving and related jobs. Without trucks, America stops. The next time you see a professional driver, thank him or her for her commitment to keeping your family fed, clothed and provided.