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What does a Truck Driver do?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Large semi trucks are one of the mainstays of transportation in the US and around the world, and the men and women who drive these big trucks are considered icons in some cultures. Drivers operate 18-wheeler trucks, also called semis. They may be an independent, owning their own rigs, or work for a trucking company. The movie Smokey and the Bandit and the country/novelty song "Convoy" by C.W. McCall helped propel this profession into the public eye in the US.

A truck driver must first be trained to drive an 18-wheeler. Driving this kind of vehicle is totally different from driving a car, a pickup truck, or even a small delivery truck. A semi has air brakes, many gears in the transmission, and a thousand other differences from conventional vehicles. A driver must be trained in all the semi's systems and operations. He or she has to know what to do when going up or down a steep grade, so the brakes will not overheat, and how to keep a load from shifting on a curve, which means she also has to know how to load the semi trailer properly.

A driving school teaches a novice how to park an 18-wheeler, how to maneuver in traffic, and how to turn into narrow streets. The driver must learn different driving techniques, depending on where he or she is. A person drives the rig one way in Los Angeles and another way on the flat Kansas interstate.

When the truck breaks down, the driver must know some basic repair skills. He or she should know how to deal with the unique traits of a diesel engine and how to change a tire. The driver also has to know how to connect and disconnect the tractor (the cab) from the trailer.

A truck driver is expected to drive long hours, keeping track of them in the truck's logbook. He or she must get merchandise to its destination on time, load the truck, unload the truck, make sure the load matches the manifest sheet, and a hundred other small duties. In short, he or she is responsible for the vehicle's operation, efficiency, management, and safety, as well as for the load he or she carries.

While some companies pay their drivers well, many drivers do not make a salary commensurate with what is expected of them. The hours are long and lonely, and burnout is common. Trucks and their drivers are still the most common way to move consumer goods around the US.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WikiMotors. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By anon993780 — On Dec 14, 2015

My mom and step dad are truck drivers and yes, I believe you get more money if you're driving your own rig. She gets paid over the miles she drives and also gets paid every Friday. So yes, I think team driving is fun. Then you get to see stuff that you never would have seen before, basically like traveling the world going through different states.

By Mykol — On Dec 02, 2012

What is an average truck driver salary? I have heard you can make decent money being a truck driver once you complete the training.

I am also wondering if you can make more money working for a trucking company or owning your own rig. I think if you were just getting started it might be kind of expensive to start out with your own truck, but you might also have the potential to make a lot more money.

By bagley79 — On Dec 01, 2012

I know some husband and wife teams who take turns driving over the road. While one is driving, the other one is sleeping in the cab. They can make a lot more money this way when they team drive like this than they can if just one of them is on the road. I don't know about any of you, but I am always amazed at the women who drive a semi truck. I would be very intimidated by this, but many of them seem to handle it with ease.

By myharley — On Dec 01, 2012

I live close to a community college that has a truck driver school. This is a very popular program, and many times you will see their student drivers on the road.

I also know when the truck drivers are in training, they have to learn how to drive in the snow and on ice. We live in a state where this is common, but depending on what their route is, a truck driver could find these conditions in many parts of the country.

I don't know how anyone could make a living being a truck driver. I get sleepy after just driving a couple of hours, and am so anxious to get to my destination. I think it would be very hard to do this day after day. Finding ways to stay alert and avoiding boredom would be hard for me to do all the time on the road.

By SarahSon — On Nov 30, 2012

@anon6812 -- Not a bad idea! If all the truck drivers decided to go on strike for some reason, then I think we would really appreciate everything the truck drivers do for us.

When we go to the grocery store or go shopping anywhere, we like to know the shelves are stocked and we can get what we need. Most of that is because of the hard work of all the truck drivers out there.

By anon256067 — On Mar 20, 2012

My dad used to be a truck driver and I'm doing a paper and I'm going to ask him about it.

By anon14424 — On Jun 16, 2008

LOL 18 wheelers hahahahaha where i am from (australia) that is a baby truck. Lewy

By aussiedriver — On Jan 09, 2008

Thanks Flywheel. But may I add... when driving a car and moving in front of a rig or coach (for that matter, they are heavy vehicles too) keep a good distance between you and the rig. There may be plenty of space to you between vehicles but for us it can be borderline if we have to brake suddenly. Drivers of cars don't seem to realize 1. how heavy the rig can be 2. the safe braking distance required to stop 3. the momentum that the vehicle has and how the weight of the rig directly affects the braking distance. So give us some space and we won't run over the top of you.

By anon6812 — On Jan 09, 2008

Wonderful article! I learned a bit more than I had assumed to know. I think it's time for a national


So... what does everyone think. We could flash lights and honk horns of appreciation for the stocked shelves of food and supplies in every store.


By anon6805 — On Jan 09, 2008

Good article. But can you point where are the driver's "Blind Spots"?

By anon6788 — On Jan 09, 2008

I wish to suggest you to include pictures and illustrations in the articles of items like the article on Articulated Trucks..thanx..sohail

By Flywheel1 — On Jan 09, 2008

Good, concise article on the functions of a truck driver. You accurately pointed out the challenges and difficulties of the over-the-road driver, and were it not for space constraints, you could have listed many others. Long-haul driving is a very demanding and often frustrating job, but a rewarding one for many drivers.

You mentioned changing tires and mechanical work. Fortunately, today's company-employed truck drivers seldom, if ever, have to do any of this work. Usually the company will have a heavy-vehicle roadside service dispatched to the truck's location if it's not able to be driven safely to a truck stop or repair shop.

And now a friendly suggestion for car drivers. For your own safety, please practice just two simple things (in addition to not slamming on your brakes in front of a big truck). Give the big truck plenty of room, and stay out of it's blind spots.

--Flywheel (1973)

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WikiMotors. With...
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