Several times a week, forum members who are researching a trucking career ask the question, “What will my training be like?” The questions might be worded differently, but it is pretty much the same topic. The problem is, we just can’t tell you. Every single student will have a completely different experience, a different length of time, a different training style, and various scenarios along the way.
Yes, each company will have specific program requirements and guidelines, but two drivers who start on the same day can end training and upgrade at different times after completing an entirely different curriculum in training. Here’s a perfect example. My friend, Mark, started Prime at the same time I did, but I upgraded to solo a whole month later than he did. Sounds crazy right? Here’s why.
Because I used the High Road Online CDL Training Program and the Apex Driving School Pre-Trip YouTube video, I passed the written test on the second day of orientation and was way ahead of the others when it came to the Pre-Trip. Mark failed the written exam and didn’t get his commercial learner’s permit until four days later. However, he had a much easier time shifting on the simulators than I did.
Mark finished his classes early, got assigned a CDL instructor and headed out two days before I did. I stayed out with my instructor for three weeks, but when I tested, I failed. I needed more backing instruction and it took me a week to finally pass and get my CDL . Mark tested two weeks before me, which gave him a good start on racking up the 30,000 team miles needed to upgrade to solo at my company.
A Tale Of Two Trainers
My team trainer owned her truck, had various medical appointments which created downtime, and she refused to drive through mountains or inclement weather areas. I came to training late in the year in order to get experience in winter driving, yet found myself not getting that experience. My trainer enjoyed running hard for a week to the point I wanted to claw her eyes out, but then would drop me at the terminal while she went to her doctors. A few days later, she would text me to say we were leaving. After unloading at a customer, she would have us sit at the customer and wait for the next load. It didn’t matter that we could drive to a truck stop ten miles away to eat and shower. It didn’t matter if there were no restrooms available. She didn’t move that truck while she waited for a load, whether it took one hour or ten hours.
Then the holidays came, and she bought me a flight home to New Jersey from Missouri. I was home December 21 through January 4th. By January 21st, we had only racked up 21,000 team miles in two and half months, and my trainer wanted to take a two week vacation. I couldn’t afford that, so she me placed on her friend’s truck. That is when life got totally crazy.
Her friend ran his truck so hard we didn’t shower, hardly ate, and never slept. That truck was never parked except for fueling and loading. In two weeks we ran 12,500 miles, and the entire time the trainer screamed at me. This trainer ran in a regional area around Chicago, and I was totally unprepared for intercity Chicago traffic. My original trainer had me drive all night long and only on interstates which was easy. I finally got back to my company in February and got my first solo load with my new truck February 14th.
The second trainer gave me more opportunities to learn to drive through traffic and winter conditions, but I had no mountain experience, other than Monteagle, TN which is a 7% grade lasting four miles. That is a huge difference from going through Wyoming with high winds, lake-effect snow, and thick ice that never melts. I did more backing with the second trainer than I did with the first one, but I should have gotten a lot more experience than I did. Regardless, I did learn a lot. When I got off the truck to go solo, I knew who I had to talk to in order to get things done. I knew what to do when I had a blowout, ran over a deer, had damaged product, or needed to get a trailer repaired. Even though the training situation seemed drawn out and wasn’t ideal, I still knew more than many new drivers.
Different Drivers, Different Experiences
Mark on the other hand had a trainer that made him do all of the backing, drive into all of the customers, and do all of the paperwork. He got the experience driving in snowy mountains and the north east region. They ran really hard and he went solo in the beginning of January. However, the truck never needed repairs, they never had any sort of accident so he was unsure how to report one when he was solo, and they never had any sort of product shortage or damage so he didn’t know how to file a claim and report it. He remembered his trainer told him what to do, but because he didn’t actually have to do it during training, he forgot. This wasn’t necessarily his trainer’s fault, it was the lack of situations that arose while he was in training.
Every load is completely different, and you can never expect a load to go smoothly, so you must allow yourself as much time as possible at the beginning of the load for unexpected repairs, weather, traffic delays, and more. And all of this explains why everyone’s training period is different from student to student.
“But Every Driver Tells Me Something Different About Being Solo”
Once solo, Mark and I were assigned to the same Fleet Manager. This guy is a real gem, I love him. From day one, he loaded me up on miles, has responded quickly to my messages, and always has an answer or tells me who to contact to get one. I trust him completely, and he always has me pre-planned for my next load. After years of being on his fleet, I get lots of special privileges, don’t get hounded by anyone in dispatch for any reason, and am never questioned when I have repairs, home time requests, or need to fuel someplace other than my assigned fuel stop.
I have even messaged him with customers in my area where I can pick up a load or have requested high mile loads out of customers I have come to know. If I want a 34 hour reset I get it. If I need to run through the terminal , I am routed without question. Meat plants are notorious for making drivers wait hours for a pickup, however, every meat load I have picked up in the last year was already loaded when I got there. Many drivers do not believe me when I tell them this, but who cares? It’s awesome for me.
Mark had a different experience. He complained constantly of low miles, claimed our Fleet Manager did not want to open his fuel card upon request, and said he was denied home time. I smelled a rat, a terminal rat.
Not All Drivers Perform Well
As we discussed his issues more, I realized my Fleet Manager often had to call him and wake him up to assure he would not be late for his loads. In our first two years, this driver had been late twelve times, and one week he was late twice! That might not sound like a lot to a new person, but when you consider I have never been late in three years, it is tragic and unprofessional. I usually start my drive shift at night so my shift is almost finished by the time my Fleet Manager reports to work. He never once called to wake me for a load.
In addition, in one week Mark contacted night dispatch to relay four separate loads to someone else because he did not manage his time and trip planning properly. Unbelievably, Mark was furious when the night dispatcher asked him “Why does this keep happening with you? Do you need help figuring things out?” I know this dispatcher was annoyed, but he sincerely wanted to help a weak driver, but Mark went on a tirade about how he had been OTR for years and is just sick, tired, or whatever excuse he could utter to blame someone else.
To put this into perspective, the only time I requested another driver to relay my load was due to weather, traffic, or customer delays which wasted my DOT Hours of Service clock. If I have requested ten relays in my whole three years, I would be shocked. That is not to say that I have not relayed a load for someone else when asked to do so as a favor by dispatch, but it is very rare that I am the one who cannot complete the load.
I then decided to analyze his other complaints. Apparently, his fuel request was denied after he abused his privileges. My company gives us fuel stops based on the amount of fuel we have in our tank, the price, the fuel tax, and how many gallons our company contracts with truck stops to ensure our discount. Occasionally we might need to select a different fuel stop for various reasons, but when I ask, I always look for a stop that is similar in price and tax to the stop I was assigned. I have never been denied a request.
In contrast, Mark repeatedly asked to fill up at a chain which can often be 20 to 50 cents per gallon more than the other truck stops. He did this to rack up his shower credits or pay for parking at gated facilities. Because of this, his truck had the highest fuel costs on our fleet. Result: Request Denied.
I didn’t even discuss the three times he was put out of service at Weigh Stations for either logbook violations, failing to do a pre-trip, or repair the truck or trailer. Basically, he wasn’t doing his job and it was costing the company money so he did not get his requests met.
The same was true when it came to home time. While on the road he would make excuses that the truck needed to go into the shop, he would say he was tired, and even abused our “inclement weather” safety option. If he was asked to do a short “favor” load, he would complain and tell dispatch he was sick. When given a new load, he would stop at a truck stop on the way and take a couple hours to eat and shower then give them an ETA saying the first appointment was impossible. This was lousy customer service, and created extra work for dispatch.
In the first two years he got hurt on the job twice, once was a “torn rotator cuff” he claimed he got from shifting, despite the fact he had been driving an automatic for over a year. He took so many 34 resets due to “being tired” that he was then denied home time when he requested it. The truck was not productive enough to justify the downtime.
It All Comes Down To Driver Performance
The moral to the story is that everyone’s experiences are different, and everything in trucking is determined by the driver. If the driver is professional, conscientious, and communicates problems well the driver will be rewarded. Be flexible; do the unpopular loads when they come up and the great loads will come more often. Be proactive in trying to handle problems early, and you will earn the respect of others. Do things that make your Fleet Manager look great, and you will be compensated in many ways.
If you were a Fleet Manager, would you load up the driver who keeps fuel costs down, gets to customers early, always get repairs done promptly, and is safe? Or are you going to give those high mile loads to a guy who is constantly late, whines and complains over every little thing, doesn’t seem to want to work, and doesn’t bother to keep his truck rolling?
It’s no surprise that Mark was terminated. He now spends his time online bashing my company and Fleet Manager.
Trucking is all about the driver. How you perform and how you handle yourself will determine your fate. Decide which driver you want to be, the professional or the terminal rat.
See also: What It Takes To Be A Top Tier Driver
Credit: Rainy : Why Some Drivers Are Treated Better Than Others