20 Secrets About Long-Haul Truck Drivers Most People Don’t Know
THEY CAN SEE EVERYTHING : Trucks are way up higher than cars; we all know this as a fact. One thing about being a truck driver is that you get to see all sorts of totally odd stuff in the cars around you. They’re way up high and can see pretty much anything that’s going on. This includes a lot of drug use, people going to the bathroom in their cars using bottles, people having sex, or even people who are naked in their cars. Sometimes, they look over and see people who are falling asleep or are breastfeeding. So, next time you’re passing big trucks on the highway or even if they’re passing you, make sure that you’re careful what you’re doing because they can see everything. We’ve already established that being a truck driver is a really boring job, so one can’t get too upset at them if they occasionally check out what’s going on in the car next to them. As long as it keeps them awake, it’s all good—as long as what happens in that car isn’t so distracting that they end up totally going off the road.
IT HAS A HIGH TURNOVER RATE : This one might surprise you, or it might not, but there’s a huge turnover rate when it comes to driving a truck. This makes a lot of sense, as it’s one of those gigs that people think isn’t that hard, and you can get a decent job in the trucking industry that pays well as long as you get your Class A license. But the annual turnover rate for drivers at large trucking companies is around 88 percent, according to the American Trucking Association, and at smaller companies, it’s around 80 percent.
Of course, this can work another way as well. Truckers are, by definition, free agents, so if they’re working for one company that isn’t paying that great, they can just jump to another one that pays better. It isn’t like they need to learn anything; driving trucks is pretty much the same wherever you work.
NO HITCH HIKERS! : Insurance ruins everything. Long-distance truck drivers are forbidden to pick up hitchhikers, purely because they aren’t covered by insurance. But they can get away with it, right? Wrong.
One trucker said, “We have a camera on the dash. One lens points out, and one points to the cab. If I hit a bump or anything that seems like it could be an accident, it snaps on for 30 seconds and sends footage to the company.”
Obviously, if that camera shows another person in it, the driver might lose his job. Hitchhiking is one of those odd things these days anyway; you hardly ever see it anymore. Back in the day, you’d see them all the time. These days, when it comes to things like Uber and Lyft, there really isn’t a need for someone to need a ride, so the sight of a hitchhiker often makes people suspicious immediately. Sure, you do occasionally see someone standing by the side of the road with his or her thumb out, but do you ever actually think about stopping for them? I’d hope not.
PEOPLE DO CALL THAT NUMBER ON THE TRUCK : We’ve all seen them before. You know those trucks that have that “How’s my driving”‘ bumper sticker on the back so people can call the number and basically rat them out if they aren’t driving well? Who calls those? Well, a lot of people do, and sometimes, they don’t make a lot of sense. One driver said, “I got reported once for hauling a bunch of Pop-Tarts filling in New York. The stuff is liquid and shifts when you’re driving, so you take turns slowly. A guy didn’t like that and called the number. The safety supervisor ended up going off on him.” So, the moral of the story is, make sure that you really have a reason to complain if you’re going to do so. Sometimes, a truck driver might be driving in a way that’s unsafe and that endangers the lives of those people around him. If that’s the case, then call the number on the truck, but if you’re just all bummed out about someone who you think isn’t driving the right way, you might want to just keep that to yourself.
IT’S A LIFESTYLE : The lifestyle of a long-distance truck driver isn’t for everyone. If you’re single, you might have a hard time having any sort of actual social life, and if you’re in a relationship or have a family, well, those people aren’t going to see you a whole heck of a lot.
One driver told Cosmopolitan, “This is not the kind of job where you’ll be home for dinner every night. You stay out driving shipments back and forth for weeks at a time, and then, you get a couple days off back home. It’s impossible to have a real life because you’re always on the road. Even on the days off, when you want to spend time with your family or your friends, you have to sleep and do your laundry and go to the grocery store to get snacks for the road, and then, before you know it, you leave again. It’s a very harsh lifestyle.”
Some people might find that lifestyle appealing. 9 to 5 jobs aren’t for everyone, but it’s the type of thing you really need to think about very carefully before you take on this kind of job.
THERE’S A SHORTAGE OF DRIVERS : You don’t need to worry a whole lot about getting hired if you’re a truck driver. One trucker said, “Don’t stress out about finding a job. There’s a huge shortage of truck drivers, so getting hired is basically as easy as getting your commercial driver’s license. It’s a 10-week program to get the certification, and by the time mine was over, I had a job lined up with a company. Some companies will even pre-hire you and pay for your training, which makes it really easy to break into the industry.” I used to work at an employment agency, and it’s true—people are always trying to hire truckers, and the job security for that position doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Think about it. Things are always going to need to be shipped around, and there really isn’t a better way to get them from place to place other than a truck. If you’re the kind of person who can handle the lifestyle and don’t mind working hard to make your money, you can almost certainly always find a job in this industry.
THE PAY IS DECENT : One of the reasons so many people are drawn to this type of job is the pay. Although you aren’t going to get rich driving trucks, you can get by pretty well doing it if you put in your time, are reliable, and become someone whom people want to hire. One driver had this to say: “When I first started driving, I was making 27 cents for every mile that I drove, which equated to around $35,000 a year—so, not great. But by the time I quit three years later, I was making $55,000 a year. Pay raises are regular, and your rate goes up if you hit goals each quarter, like making on-time deliveries, driving without accidents, staying under the speed limit, and having more years of experience under your belt.” That’s the thing—the more experience you have, the more you’ll be paid, and the more jobs you take on, the more you’ll get paid per mile. And it isn’t that you’re working all that hard. As long as you can take the grind of driving all day, you’ll be more than fine as a truck driver.
THE TRUCK IS YOUR HOME : Ever wonder what it would be like as a truck driver? Listen to this female trucker explain it: “You sleep in your truck, you eat in your truck, you spend every minute in your truck. The trucks have sleeper berths behind the cab, with bunk beds and cabinets and a few shelves, and that basically becomes your home for weeks at a time. When my boyfriend and I started team driving together, we decided to buy a new memory-foam mattress for our truck, because the mattresses that come in the trucks are like summer camp cots. We bought a crockpot to cook food on the go, and we had a really nice setup. It’s not glamorous, but you make it your own. The one thing you don’t do in your truck is go to the bathroom and shower, which you get to do at special areas of rest stops and at ‘service plazas.’ You learn to get by on a shower a few times a week (or less) and hold your bladder for as long as possible because every minute you’re stopped at a rest stop is lost income.” The trucker goes on to say that some long-haul drivers even wear diapers to save time. Now that’s nasty.
BEING IN SHAPE? FORGET IT. : If you’re a long-distance truck driver, you might want to forget being in good shape. It’s simply not a good situation when it comes to health and working out. One trucker says, “You’re sitting all day driving; then, you’re sleeping. That’s your life for as long as it takes to get home. Forget exercising; you’re barely standing up throughout the day. The only way to make money is if your truck is moving, and as long as your truck is moving, you’re on your butt. You’re also eating like crap since your only options on the road are fast food and the non-perishables you can bring in your truck, so you’re living off a diet of hamburgers and canned vegetables.”
As I said before, it isn’t that the job is all that hard. You basically crank the radio and drive around all day, but the conditions are pretty awful. People are made to sit in an uncomfortable chair all day with their arms extended in front of them.
IT’S DANGEROUS : Even though most of these truck drivers are very skilled, accidents happen. There are thousands of fatal crashes involving trucks each year, and there are even more crashes that are non-fatal.
Think about it—you have truck drivers who are running on little sleep, who are bored out of their minds, and at the same time, are working on a specific schedule that involves getting things delivered on time, which can mean they might be a bit reckless behind the wheel.
The whole thing is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention, it’s challenging for even the best drivers to handle an 18-wheeler flawlessly. Of course, if there’s an awful storm, a driver will stop and wait it out, but if it’s just a really bad one, they’re expected to keep driving. It just isn’t all that easy to get through a year, a month, or even a week without getting in an accident when you’re driving one of these huge beasts under the conditions that these guys have to drive in. As many awful crashes as there are, it’s kind of a miracle that there aren’t even more of them.
YOU HAVE TO DRIVE AT NIGHT : While you see a lot of truck drivers on the highway during the day, when they really tend to be on the road is at night. It’s way easier for these guys to hit the road when the stars are out. As one trucker told Reddit, “If you have miles to cover, the best time to roll is at night. Get with a pod of trucks, give everyone space, and roll. Missing day traffic is a real treat—the kids sleep, you skip hotel-room nights and get to use the pool in the daytime. Early check-in, late check-out etc, really adds up the $ and drops the stress levels by a mile.” If you’ve ever driven all night while on the way to something or while taking a cross-country road trip, you know how true that this is. The highways are totally full of huge trucks when the sun is down, particularly from the hours of midnight to 6 AM or so. Sometimes, all you see on the highways are tractor trailers. It makes sense—why deal with all the traffic and spend your days with cars zooming all around you if you don’t have to?
THEY TRY, BUT A LOT OF THEM CAN’T SPEED : You know when you’re driving down the highway and you see a big truck pull into the passing lane to pass another vehicle, and they’re out there forever when you’re stuck behind them? You might wonder why they don’t just step on it and hurry up. Well, they might not be able to.
One driver said, “Most companies limit the speed of their trucks. I’ve been capped at 62 miles per hour.”
So, it isn’t always the fact that the truck is so slow the driver can’t go any faster; it’s often that a limit is programmed into the computer of the engine. That has seriously got to be a drag. Can you imagine everyone flying by you on the highway while you’re stuck going 62 miles an hour? No wonder these dudes seem cranky sometimes. I bet when they get done delivering a load, they must get in their cars and go screwing around at top speed all over the place and yelling at the top of their lungs. Well, maybe they don’t do that, but it sure is kind of funny to think about. Indulge me, would you?
THEY CAN SAMPLE THE GOODS : Sometimes, when you work for a trucking company, you get to sample some of the goods you’re delivering or get a little something for free. One driver named “Keith” told Mental Floss, “Some of the bigger ice cream or candy companies, when you pick up or drop off a shipment, someone might give you a sample,” Keith says. “Ben & Jerry’s, for example, gave me a pint of ice cream. I had a freezer on board, thankfully.” Another time, a company Keith was delivering to refused a 25-pound box of chicken with damage to the box. “The receiver told us to keep it. We ate a lot of chicken that week.” A pint of ice cream? You have to be kidding… Wow, Ben & Jerry’s sure are big spenders! Way back in the day, I used to work for a furniture company as a helper. I wasn’t the driver; I sat next to the guy and helped him unload. There were a couple times that something was damaged at the warehouse, and because of that, I got myself some free furniture out of the deal.
THEY STILL CALL UBER : One might think that one of the coolest parts of the gig is going all around the country and seeing things at places you’ve only dreamed of going, but the thing is, driving around in an 18-wheeler isn’t always the smartest thing to do when you’re just kicking around some new town and have a few hours off. I mean, what could go wrong? What truck drivers do quite often is find a quiet and safe place a bit out of town or even more so a city, lock the truck up tight, and take an Uber. When you think of it, that’s pretty cool. Gone are the days when truckers have to chill all night at truck stops and hang out at whatever greasy-spoon restaurant or dive bar happens to be there (full disclosure: I actually love dive bars). They can leave their 50-foot trailer behind and take an Uber into town for some fun—not too much fun, of course. These guys might have to get up and drive hundreds of miles in the morning, and that isn’t the easiest thing to do when you have a hangover.
A LOT OF THE TRUCKS HAVE KITCHENS : You don’t have to go out to eat if you’re a long-distance truck driver. When you get tired of food on the road, you can just cook in your truck. According to Mental Floss, “Many have outlets or power sources that can accommodate small appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, and cooking gear—all valuable resources when drivers want to avoid the greasy, calorie-heavy food at restaurants and rest stops.” The cab really is home for these guys, according to this article in Vice. “The extended sleeper cabs allow for months of hauling at a time, and the extra living space functions as an all-in-one bedroom, kitchen, tool bench, closet, and dining room. There’s no need to leave the truck for anything more than a bathroom break. Through the blur of early mornings and late nights, the small space becomes a messy assortment of personal and practical. Automotive supplies mix with DVDs and drink caddies, and everything eventually gets draped in dirty laundry.”
CHROME DUCKS? : Working for yourself is cool. If you’ve never tried it, maybe you should try and build up the courage. If you don’t succeed, you can always get another job. Long-distance truckers are no different from the rest of us; they would way rather own their rig than drive for someone else. If you ever see a truck that’s all macked out and doesn’t look like all the other trucks on the road, it’s probably because the driver is flaunting his independence.
Once trucker said, “I sometimes see a truck with weird add-ons, like an 8-inch chrome duck or a weird paint job, and that’s the trucker telling you, ‘I own this truck, not some mega-carrier.’”
Okay, so as someone who works for myself, I get the vibe of being proud of that. I love it when people talk about going on vacation or having three-day weekends, to be honest. I pretty much never even know what day it is. But come on… can’t you do any better than a chrome duck to show off how cool you are? Who comes up with this stuff anyway?
A LOT OF DRIVERS HAVE BUDDIES… WHICH IS OFTEN A BAD IDEA : Some people end up partnering up, but most go solo. The benefits of partnering up are varied: you have someone to talk to when you’re bored on those long lonely drives, and you can get where you’re going faster, as one person can drive while the other person crashes out. The negatives are that a lot of times, you don’t want someone talking to you while you drive and just want to be left alone, and you’re trapped in an area smaller than a jail cell with someone that you might not even like or know, for that matter. Sometimes, drivers partner up with someone they’re close to, maybe even their wife, but other times, they might be set up with a complete stranger by the trucking company. That can be a total nightmare. When I worked on trucks as a helper, if I got along with the driver, things would be cool, but if I didn’t get along with the driver, things would be incredibly awful. There’s nothing worse than being trapped in a truck for days with someone that you don’t like.
CB RADIOS ARE STILL COOL : Of course, CB radios aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be, now that there’s the Internet available everywhere and pretty much everyone in the free world has a cellphone, but come on! These are long-distance truck drivers; they have to have a CB! As one driver said, “I had one, and it was nice to hear if there was a traffic jam coming up. Beyond that, there’s just a lot of trash talking, and it escalates into the equivalent of an internet flame war.” And yeah, there’s still all that cool trucker slang. An “alligator” is a piece of tire on the road. If someone is “coming up on your back door,” it means someone is moving up behind you. A “black eye” is if you have a busted headlight, a “double nickel” is cruising along at 55 miles per hour, and pulling over to use the bathroom is “paying the water bill.” Truckers still have their own vibe and their own lingo, and as much as a CB might seem kind of obsolete, it’s still part of the culture, so it’ll stay around for a while.
HEADLIGHTS ARE USED TO COMMUNICATE : If a truck is flashing its headlights at you while you’re driving down the road at night, you might think the driver might be mad at you, but that probably isn’t the case. When it comes to communicating with other truck drivers, headlights are often used.
One driver said, “If I’m driving and someone passes me, I’ll turn my lights off and on a couple of times to let him know he’s cleared the front of my truck [and can merge]. Then, he might blink twice to say ‘thanks.’”
This is another example of a sort of unspoken code between truck drivers. They truly do try and support each other when they’re out on the open road. To a truck driver, there are all of us non-truck driving types buzzing around in our cars, and then, there are the other long-distance drivers, and they try and show each other as much courtesy as they can. It’s sort of like a club that they’re all members of, and the only way you can join is to go through the same things that they do all the time out on the road.
DON’T TAILGATE! : You should never tailgate a truck. If you have to stop quickly and don’t have the ability to do so, it would be like riding into a brick wall at a high speed, and you’d be unlikely to survive. If you’re a truck driver, you also shouldn’t let anyone tailgate you—just not a good scene either way. One truck driver told Reddit, “Doesn’t matter what you’re hauling, I’ve found. I do local deliveries for contracting equipment (excavators, Bobcat-style skidsteers, etc.) in an F-150 + trailer, and I got into a fender bender yesterday. Jammed on my brakes, slammed the emergency brake, pumped the adjustable trailer brake up as far as I could, and I still slid into him. 10,000 lbs is a sh!tload of weight, so don’t ever slow down suddenly in front of a truck with a heavy payload.” Tailgating is dumb no matter how you look at it. I had an old girlfriend who was smart in pretty much every way, except she liked to tailgate people like an absolute lunatic. It wasn’t a good look for her, and it isn’t for you either.
Sources: mentalfloss.com; cosmopolitan.com; vice.com