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Choosing to become a professional truck driver is a career choice promising adventure and a dependable income source. The increased demand for truck drivers and healthy projection for growth means truck drivers will continue to be in demand. How do you become a professional truck driver and what happens after CDL training? Let’s find out!

What is the First Step in Becoming a Professional Truck Driver?

Acquiring a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is the first step in becoming a highly qualified professional truck driver. The next step is over-the-road (OTR) training. This involves pairing new graduates from trucking school with qualified trainers. Training instructors are experienced professional truckers who have the ability to impart the knowledge of their trade into beginners or those just starting out. This all-important next step readies truckers to actualize their book understanding, moving their training from the classroom to the roadway.  

Why Over-The-Road Training is Important?

Truckers learn a great deal about the trucking industry, mechanics of the truck, and methods of professional truck driving during truck driving school and acquiring a CDL. OTR training is the act of putting this knowledge into action. It is “on the job” training in a sense. New truckers are paired with mentor drivers or trainers who have been there, done that, and can help them learn the ins and outs of the industry.

Trainers also help truckers learn strategies for how to judge angles and bank roads as well as how curves can work against the truck and what happens at varied traveling speeds. The mechanics of how to operate the truck most efficiently and how to take care of minor mechanical issues is also addressed. This important on-the-job training will ensure a new trucker is ready to take on the task of a professional driver, safely and confidently.

How Long Does OTR Training Take?

Most OTR training courses span between four and six weeks. A trucker’s previous experience is taken into consideration when setting their training timeframe. If a trucker has already driven professionally, they likely require less OTR training. However, even if a person has previous driving experience, they can still benefit from OTR training. It can serve as a refresher course of sorts.

Is OTR Training Required to Become an Over The Road Driver?

Yes and no. Experienced drivers who can pass a road test might not require OTR training. In addition, drivers who possess a Class A CDL and who have at least 120 hours in trucking school, within the last previous year, can most likely forego OTR training. However, most drivers, even those who have previously worked as a professional driver in some aspect, benefit from the focused, structured instruction OTR training provides. In addition, drivers can earn credit, which, in essence, cuts their probation time to 15,000 instead of 30,000 miles, making OTR valuable even for experienced drivers. (Driver pay increases after they log 30K solo miles during the probationary period.)

Safety is the Name of The Game

The safety of both the driver and all those on the roadway is the basis of all OTR training. The goal is for trainers to teach drivers how to operate a rig safely and what needs to be inspected regularly on the truck, so they too will develop habits that ensure safety is kept in the forefront of operating their rig.

Are Trainees Paid During Over the Road Training?

Yes. The amount will depend on how much previous training a driver has prior to their OTR training. In most cases, trainees receive weekly pay while completing their OTR training. Once a driver has logged 90,000 miles as a solo over-the-road driver, they are qualified to become a trainer if they so desire. Some drivers, who enjoy teaching others, will opt to become a trainer. Others simply remain over-the-road solo drivers.

Is OTR Training All About Learning How to Drive?

No. In fact, much of the OTR training emphasis is placed on the practical aspects of being an over-the-road trucker. For example, trainers explain how to prep for a trip, how to pack, how to best handle the logistics of being away from family for a time, and more. These skilled professionals know what the day-to-day life of a trucker looks like, and they share this knowledge with trainees, giving them a realistic look at the profession they have chosen. In general, truck driving is a fun, exciting career, but, of course, there are challenges in every profession. Thankfully, this time of OTR training gives experienced OTR drivers (or trainers) the opportunity to share their own story of how driving has worked for them and their family and to address and combat any challenges. This is a valuable resource to new drivers.

An Outline of Training Time Frame at Knight Transportation

The following is a quick breakdown of professional truck driving training timeframe:

  • Complete CDL school.
  • OTR training: 4-6 weeks.
  • Solo driving/getting own truck: 6 weeks.
  • Pay increase at 30k solo miles: Team driver option is available once a driver has 30K solo miles: 15 weeks.
  • Bonus after 60K solo miles: 15 weeks.
  • Bonus after 90k solo miles: 15 weeks.
  • The option of becoming a trainer or continue OTR driving career.

After CDL Training, What a Day of OTR Training Could Look Like

While the specifics of such a day will be dependent on the strategy used by the trainer and the skill of the driver, usually, a day of training has the trainee behind the wheel with the trainer sitting in the passenger seat. Trainers will instruct new drivers on what to do before they get started with their day. What they are to check on their truck and how to recognize a potential mechanical issue. The two are then on their way with the trainee situated at the wheel once all is deemed safe. Trainers explain various strategies regarding operating the truck while it’s in action. As mentioned above, angles, braking, merging, and all manner of specifics are covered during the day of driving. As the day ends, trainers and trainees get ready to do it all again the next day, learning more and more during each day’s adventure.

Bottom Line

The CDL aspect of truck driving training is vital, but as outlined above, it alone doesn’t prepare a new driver for the day in and day out experience of a professional truck driver. In addition, even though instructional learning via books, computers, or the classroom environment is valuable, the benefit of OTR training cannot be overstated. Without it, new drivers are unable to understand exactly what being a professional over-the-road driver will look like on a regular day-to-day basis.

After all, who better than a professional driver, who has been there, to impart this knowledge on a new driver? After CDL training, OTR training ensures new drivers are safe on the roadway and know the tricks-of-the-trade in terms of how to avoid accidents, keep their rigs in optimal working order and understand how to ready their families for their long-haul trips. Truck driving is an adventurous, interesting way to make a living, and OTR training allows new truckers to tap into all the possibilities of the career and embrace it fully as their chosen profession.

For more information about becoming a professional truck driver for Knight Transportation, visit our job page.

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