What Do Commercial Drivers Do?

Research what it takes to become a commercial driver. Learn about training requirements, job outlook, licensure and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Driver Training degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Commercial Driver?

Busses and large vehicles, such as tractor-trailer trucks, are operated by qualified drivers who possess a commercial driver's license (CDL). Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers move cargo from one location to another. They often drive very long distances and they are responsible for maintaining their vehicle. They may also help load and unload the cargo. Bus drivers transport passengers. They may pick up and drop off students traveling from home to school and vice versa, or they may work a transit route and pick up and drop off passengers at predetermined stops along the route. Some work in city transit; others may provide interstate transit. Like heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, bus drivers need to perform basic vehicle maintenance, report any mechanical concerns and keep their vehicle clean. All commercial drivers are responsible for following traffic laws.

Training Required High school diploma; truck driving training program
Key Skills Alertness, physical stamina, hand-eye coordination
Licensure All commercial drivers require a commercial driver's license
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% (for all heavy and tractor-trailer drivers)*
Median Salary (2015) $40,260 (for all heavy and tractor-trailer drivers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are Commercial Drivers?

While commercial drivers may drive other people or transport goods in different vehicles of various sizes, for the purpose of this article, commercial drivers will be defined as those who are required to have a commercial driver's license, or CDL. To be a truck driver, bus driver or driver of any size vehicle that can carry 15 or more passengers, plus the driver, you must have this license.

Drivers of larger trucks, such as semi-trailers, must have a CDL as well, as do drivers who transport hazardous materials. A CDL is also required if you are carrying an oversized load.

How Do I Get a CDL?

You do not need to meet specific education guidelines to be a commercial driver and earn your CDL. For practical reasons, however, you will probably want driver's training, especially if you plan to drive a larger vehicle, such as a semi. Training courses are often available through technical and community colleges. Training may last 5-10 weeks, and you will usually get your CDL when you successfully complete the program.

Testing for the CDL includes a written test of at least 30 questions, plus potential additional questions about air brakes. You will then take a skills test, for which you will drive the kind of vehicle you expect to use. You must also earn endorsements for driving certain kinds of commercial vehicles, such as school buses, passenger vehicles, vehicles carrying hazardous materials or semis that pull double or triple trailers. These endorsements require a written test and, in some cases, a special skills test.

What Could I Earn?

The salary you earn will be determined by the kind of vehicle you drive, where you drive and your previous experience. PayScale.com listed hourly pay ranges for the 10th - 90th percentiles of three of the most common commercial driving jobs. As of October 2016, drivers of heavy trucks or tractor-trailers earned $14.19-$24.53 per hour. School bus drivers had hourly rates ranging from $11.17-$19.98, as of October 2016, while inter-city or transit bus drivers earned $10.05-$23.38 per hour during the same time.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that taxi cab drivers and chauffeurs perform is comparable to the work of a bus driver. Like bus drivers, they transport passengers from one location to another. The key difference is that they do not work along predetermined routes and they transport smaller numbers of people at a time. They also assist passengers with their luggage if needed. Chauffeurs provide amenities in their vehicles. Taxi cab drivers and chauffeurs may need to be licensed by the city or state they work in. They need a clean driving record, and may need to pass a background check. Delivery truck drivers perform tasks that are very similar to the work of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers. They transport cargo from one location to another. The key difference is that they operate smaller vehicles and typically have shorter runs than tractor-trailer truck drivers. They also do not need a CDL. They need a standard driver's license and must complete on-the-job training.

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