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What Does It Take To Be A Long Haul Truck Driver?

Freedom, vistas, and adventures call to those who dream of a life as a long haul truck driver.

It’s the solitude, long days, and hard drives they aren’t so sure of.

Television shows like Ice Road Truckers convey both the excitement and the hazards of long haul trucking. The very real possibility of jack-knifing down a black-ice covered hill must be balanced with the perks of seeing every state in the United States and owning the road while sitting eight feet from the asphalt.

The Basics of Long Haul Truck Driving

Long haul trucking, also known as OTR or over-the-road, differs from short haul trucking in important ways. Short haulers tend to handle local deliveries of newspapers, produce, baked goods and fish. They constantly navigate tight city streets and back into loading docks. They are home for dinner each night.

Long haul truckers, on the other hand, move a wide range of goods from livestock to oil to frozen foods and toys. These can be gone for three weeks and even more. Unlike his counterpart with a typically smaller truck, the long haul trucker drives the biggest of the big rigs and puts pedal to the metal in one direction for the majority of his or her trip.

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, long haul trucker Josh Giesbrecht explains that he drives 600 to 700 miles each day. As the owner of a truck (at 28!) he stands to make more money than those who work for a trucking company, but he is on the hook for fuel, repairs and all of his meals. His two, 150-gallon tanks keep stopping for gas limited to once every two or three days, but he gets only between 6 and 7 mpg. U.S. laws limit him to driving 11 hours in a 14-hour period, with an 8:00 p.m. mandatory stopping time. He explained that he typically drives nine to 10 hours, but will go all the way to 11 if it’s cost-effective for him. While most truckers start out with a salary of around $40,000 per year, many can earn up to $75,000 or even $100,000.

The Perks of Being a Long Haul Truck Driver

Many who find themselves sitting in the seat of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer explain they’ve been drawn to big trucks since childhood. Pencil-pushing behind a desk or computer never appealed. For this group, the following benefits far outweigh long hours and nights on the road.

Freedom and Self-Direction

For the most part, long haul truck drivers set their own schedule and make their own decisions. The recent introduction of electronic log books, however, limits the driver’s independence to some extent. Still, bosses and colleagues do not interfere with most of their daily decisions. The long haul driver determines when to get on the road, when to stop for breaks, what to listen to while driving. Their distance from any oversight (and a hands-free headset) allows them to chat over CB radio when they want and call friends and loved ones back home.

Meeting New People & Having Unique Experiences

For some, the routine of the same workspace and coworkers every day is a soul-killer. Long haul truck drivers stop at restaurants across the United States, striking up conversations with waitresses, other truck drivers and diners.

Seeing the Countryside

While long haul truck drivers do spend most of the time in their cabs, they certainly take in the scenery. Some stretches though America’s great plains and deserts get monotonous, but those that love the life remark that they get through with dashboard movie players and radio shows. Many also comment that the deserts can be beautiful in their own unique ways.


For training that lasts just four to five weeks, the $38,000 average salary a beginning truck driver receives can’t be dismissed.  Further, after a few years of experience, long haul truck drivers willing to be away from home for three weeks or more at a time can earn up to $60,000 or more.

The Challenges of the Long Haul Life

Every career has its downside and becoming a long haul trucker is no different. If the lifestyle perks outlined above seem exciting, make sure none of the drawbacks below are deal-killers

Impact on Health

Sitting for nine to 11 hours wreaks havoc on anyone’s body. Veins and arteries, bone and muscle, as well as all organs, require movement to perform their duties properly. Because desk jockeys, too, suffer from constant sitting, products like the standing desk and the pedaling desk have sprung onto the market. Long haul truck drivers don’t have these options for treating their bodies better. Still, some truck drivers make the lifestyle work for them by stopping every three hours to do push-ups, sit ups and even walking around their truck dozens of times. In recent years, TravelCenters of America (TA) and Pilot Travel Centers have added gyms and running or walking to many locations.

Diet plays an even bigger part in health than exercise, and the good news is that the driver can control his or hers. For decades, the stereotype of the long haul truck driver held true: someone eating high fat and salty food in a truck stop. Unfortunately, many drivers can have lost their commercial driver’s licenses after developing diet-related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea. Long haul trucking unfortunately the highest obesity prevalence of all American professions.

With America’s doctors and Michelle Obama calling for the nation to eat better and trim down, a healthy food movement has risen in the long haul trucking industry. TA marks its healthy meal options with “StayFit” signage. In Springfield Missouri, Siphiwe Baleka, who once swam for Yale, developed 13-week nutrition and fitness plan for truckers in his company’s (Prime Trucking’s) fleet, built to fit in with the long haul lifestyle. There are even several long haul trucking diet and fitness celebrities, encouraging fellow truckers to skip the chips and munch on carrots while covering the miles.

Long Trips Away From Home

As in the military, the long haul trucking industry is known for long periods separated from family. This can result in emotional estrangement and infidelity, but it doesn’t have to. Many health benefit plans of long haul truckers include premarital education and marriage counseling, and these programs give partners the skills they need to recognize when they’re feeling lonely or overwhelmed and strategies for handling these circumstances. Long haul truckers can also seek out this education and insight themselves.

The Stress of Constant Vigilance and Responsibility

The basic fact of extraordinary time on the road puts long haul truck drivers at a high risk of traffic accidents. The courts tend to hold commercial drivers to a higher standard and find them liable more often than not. Trucking companies pressure drivers to take extensive precautions. Carrying these duties out and knowing that another driver can land them in trouble with their employer and the law creates stress that long haul truckers deal with daily.

How to Get Started as a Long Haul Truck Driver

Plenty of jobs exist for long haul truckers today. Those who choose this field will never lack for work.

The first step is to get a commercial driver’s license or CDL. The best place to start is with your state’s department of motor vehicles. They will ask you to prove medical fitness and residency. There you can download the CDL manual. After passing the written test, you’ll take a skills test. Here’s where a commercial truck driving education program may come in. This said, many companies provide paid training. They allow you to apprentice while getting your CDL and learning driving skills. Additionally, if you’re looking to start your own business, you will need a trucking authority to become an owner-operator. Explore the career sections of trucking companies to understand the requirements of those who will eventually hire you.

Written By

A marketing major from UNCC, Chris co-founded Armstrong Transport in 2006. Over the past 10 years Chris has overseen growing the company from a small startup above his garage to a nationwide network of logistics professionals. During this growth, Chris has remained committed to providing a fun / family atmosphere while delivering exceptional customer service. Chris enjoys hiking the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and four boys… and watching movies.



  1. Morgan

    June 3, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    Wow, this post was very informative. Jobs that require constant driving and traveling certainly aren’t for everyone, so resources like this that are detailed about what work the job requires are really helpful. Thanks for posting!

  2. Tom

    September 26, 2017 at 11:21 am

    I have been a truck driver for the last 15 years and it has become my passion!

    With all those innovations coming in technologies, truck driving is becoming easier and smoother everyday.

    I completely agree with you about the adverse health effects this constant driving have. I started to have cholesterol just after five years in this job. I had to work out rigorously to get rid off it.

    Although there are certain adverse health issues with long haul truck driving, you will enjoy it because it’s meant for strong hearted persons!

  3. Earl C

    October 16, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Excellent article. There’s a lot to know for CDL drivers, which doesn’t always make it easy to get started. Drivers that have taken the time understand how the rules work do quite well, and it takes some (not all) pressure off of them.

  4. David

    January 15, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Truck driver spend long hours on the road, away from human civilization. Thank for you great article!

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