How CDL Drivers Thrive In, Not Just Survive In, Their First Year Behind the Wheel

No doubt about it. Your first year as a truck driver is going to be your toughest. But with the right prep work and mindset you can develop a career for the long haul.

We offer these tips on how to thrive in, not just survive in, your first year behind the wheel.

Lots of jobs require consistent training and long hours, but trucking has unique demands, many of which just take time to conquer. Like familiarizing yourself with the truck you drive, increasing your confidence in handling a rig and mapping out your routes. It’s important to set realistic expectations and accept that you will make mistakes—to avoid getting discouraged and overwhelmed when you do. Racking up driving experience is the one thing you need to hit your stride. It’s also the one thing you can’t rush.

On a side note: When you get lost—and it’s almost guaranteed at some point that you will—figure out where you are and know that it’s OK to call your destination for the best route connecting the two.

One of the biggest challenges facing new truck drivers is not having a set schedule—both in distance and time on the road. Hours can be long and erratic, with fatigue cited as a common issue. Although your goal always is to pick up and deliver on time, it’s important not to cut corners when it comes to your health and well-being. Take time to sleep, exercise and stretch, as well as maintain a healthy diet. Stock a cooler with healthy groceries, rather than rely on fast food or truck stop fare that will fill you up but won’t fuel your body.

Some of the most frequent mechanical issues you’ll encounter involve oil, anti-freeze, wiper fluid and fuses. Keeping these on hand may be the difference between being stranded along the roadside and making it to a repair facility. Also pack clothes for all weather conditions. Staying comfortable will help you focus on the job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $48,310 in May 2021. Living on the road can be expensive. Create a budget and track your spending to stay on course.

Some tips:
• Don’t use credit cards to buy things you can’t afford.
• Don’t turn luxuries and conveniences into “must-haves.”
• Do commit 20% of your income to savings for the unexpected.

Being alone for extended periods can be emotionally tough. Loneliness, depression and anxiety are among the mental-health challenges truck drivers face. Technology has made it possible to stay connected to family and friends. Get to know what’s available and schedule time to stay connected.

Trucking companies vary in their policies, pay and benefits. Don’t settle for anything less than a company with a proven record of treating employees with respect.

Look for:
• Competitive salaries
o Select a company that compensates drivers fairly and competitively that also offers pay increases as you gain experience and hours behind the wheel.
• Well-maintained fleet
o How a company’s fleet looks can indicate how well it is run overall. Some companies short on finances will run old, rusted and even dangerous rigs to save money. Look out for well-maintained cabs and trailers with minimal rust and damage.
• Quality benefits
o Benefits come in many forms: medical, dental, vision. But they also can run to other services and perks. Companies that offer safe driving bonuses, time off between runs, flexible PTO schedules and healthy 401K contributions are safe bets for a lasting, reliable and rewarding career.

The first year for any truck driver is the toughest. Following these tips on how to thrive in, not just survive in, your first year behind the wheel will help you make it over the long haul.

Bison Transport USA has a strong commitment to those we serve and the communities we operate. We support our drivers’ needs for quality home time, safe equipment, competitive pay and benefits. Our motto, “Your success drives us,” reflects how much we value our drivers. We invest a lot in our people, as well as our machines, because we value relationships.