How would you like to have one of the most dangerous jobs in the US for a paycheck that barely covers your household expenses? You'd have to be insane to choose a career like that, and yet 1.6 million of us truck drivers climb into a cab week after week facing this reality.
Of course there are many reasons that people get into over-the-road (OTR) truck driving. They might romanticize the solitude and driving on the open road, they might be unemployed and have a desperate need to feed their family, or they might be under the illusion that trucking is 'just a job' like any other. But the numbers tell the story: the turnover for large truckload fleets is around 90%, which means most drivers quit in their first year.
Nothing prepares you for how extreme truck driving is, and how many personal sacrifices you'll have to make.
One of the first and most obvious hardships of being a truck driver is the time spent away from your family. The minimum is five days out of every seven, the average is 11 days out of every 14. This means you'll spend up to 70% of the time away from home. That's seven years out of 10 missing birthdays, first football games, anniversaries, and other significant milestones. Many of us tell ourselves that we're doing the right thing - but are we?
You might think that the payoff for life on the open road is freedom - think again. You'll have the Department of Transport and law enforcement agencies breathing down your neck day and night looking for even the most minor of infractions. Some companies even go as far as monitoring your speed, your engine RPM, whether you hit the brakes too hard, and a million other things. You'll be under scrutiny every minute you drive.
We can spend up to 18 hours per day in a 10' x 8' enclosed cab area. Relying almost exclusively on public showers and restroom facilities for our daily personal care, even basic hygiene can be a challenge. Our sleep patterns become totally erratic. The food we eat is usually the low quality garbage found in rest stops. We don't get anywhere near enough exercise. We're quite often exhausted, relying on energy drinks, energy enhancers, and caffeine. Sitting for so long in one position causes back pain and other repetitive strain injuries. More than a few truck drivers have a nicotine habit. Our health becomes a ticking time bomb.
Isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, are just some of the many common mental issues that truck drivers suffer from. Also consider that almost a third of long haul truck drivers will be involved in a serious accident. That's over a million drivers experiencing potentially severe trauma. The sad fact is that even if drivers do seek mental health treatment, the heavy work schedules make it almost impossible to access health care with any regularity.
Downdraft. Fog. Freezing rain. Sub-zero temperatures. High winds. Hail storm. Ice. Snow. Tornados. Torrential rain. If you've ever tried navigating down an icy mountain pass with 80,000 pounds of vehicle pushing you from behind, you'll know a level of stress that most people can't even comprehend in their daily job.
As drivers, we can never switch off. It starts when you formulate your route plan to avoid restricted roads and low bridges. We need to secure freight for transport and perform pre-trip and post-trip inspections. The job requires us to be constantly aware of our immediate surroundings, the speed limits, the road signs, the actions of other drivers, the traffic and the weather conditions. We have to communicate our trip status, complete our log books, inspect and maintain our vehicles and equipment in compliance with industry standards and protocols. Meanwhile we have to monitor freight during transport, making sure it is not lost, damaged or stolen. Don't forget that we also have to plan and implement response strategy in an emergency or after a vehicle or equipment failure.
Because of the potential for traffic accidents, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Add to that the stress of personal liability for causing death, serious injury or harming others, damage to property, loss or damage of freight, and the ever-present fear of violating a long list of Federal, State, and local government rules and regulations.
The average pay for an OTR driver is less than $3,959 gross per month in the first two years. After five years this might rise to between $5,886 to $7,000 gross per month. When compared to the US median household income $4,709 gross per year (in 2015) this might sound okay. But when you consider that the average monthly cost of living for a four-person family in 20 major US cities ranges from $5,051 in Houston, TX to $6,000 in Chicago and $8,227 in New York City, our paychecks are grossly inadequate.
With the stress, the responsibility, the personal sacrifices, and high risk of driving a truck we deserve to be fairly compensated. Especially when you consider that trucking is a $7 Billion industry and our services are essential to the functioning of the American economy. We should be able to make a living wage with the ability to save just a little for emergencies and retirement, instead of living paycheck to paycheck.
As Albert Einstein said: "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." As drivers we need to radically overhaul the system to ensure that we're no longer caught in this loop of insanity.
But there is a way out. If you want to learn more about how to smash the system and turn driving into the respected career it should be, subscribe to Truckonomics today.