What Is An OTR CDL Truck Driver?
OTR is an acronym for over the road and refers to a long haul trucking run. This means that the driver will typically spend weeks on the road and get paid on a per mile basis. CDL is an acronym for commercial drivers license that allows the licensee to haul heavy, hazardous, and sensitive materials via truck from one location to the next. The two terms combined refer to a long distance commercial truck driver who can spend up to 70 hours a week on the road. That is a lot of truck driving and it’s something to think about prior to committing to this line of work.
Though being an OTR truck driver is not for everyone due to the impact it can have on one’s lifestyle, there are other types of trucking jobs like regional and local haulers. Each has their own benefits and becoming a local driver might be a better option than choosing to be an OTR driver. Most OTR drivers choose this line of work because of the freedom of being in charge of one's own financial destiny. They can determine which delivery routes they want to run and how much will be their per mileage rate.
Regional Truck Drivers
Being a regional truck driver often requires the operator to be on the road for days. There are five regions in Continental United States which are the West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast. Regional truck drivers who cover the Southwest might haul a container from Albuquerque, NM to Houston, TX. These truckers runs will typically cover up to 1000 miles and truckers can spend multiple days on the road. They try to set their driving days for the weekend but they can also spill over into the work week depending on shipping demand. Being on the road for multiple days can be challenging but not nearly as difficult as OTR drivers who spend weeks on the road. All of this traveling can be a tremendous burden on a driver's wife and kids.
Local Truck Drivers
Local truck drivers will still cover large areas within a region. For example, a logistics company that covers Northern Texas, will hire local drivers to ship from one point to the next within a short distance. These drivers might work for a drayage service company or perhaps a regular big name delivery service like FedEx or UPS. For example, a regional truck driver might haul deliveries between Dallas and Amarilllo which is a distance of 400 miles. Such a run could take anywhere between 6 to 7 hours depending on the experience of the driver. Unlike OTR and regional drivers, local truck drivers will work by the hour and live at home. That is a pretty big deal for those who are married with kids. Local trucking can be looked at as a regular daytime job with returning home at the end of a long day. Weekends are usually free and trucking companies offer many attractive benefits and pension programs. Best of all is that they won’t miss special occasions like their daughters dance recital or son's baseball game. Local trucking is a far better solution for the work life balance.
Truck Driving Isn't Just a Job It's a Lifestyle
In today’s current logistics environment the demand for goods is at an all time high. With the combination of the ecommerce explosion and COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have become totally reliant on home delivery services. For suppliers this means that the product needs to be at a fulfilment center sooner than ever before. With the high demand for on time and reliable trucking, logistics companies are in search of truck drivers to operate all types of runs. However, it’s vital for drivers to understand the line of work and how it can take a toll on you and your family prior to getting into the driver seat.
Truckers who spend weeks on the road become lonely and that can often lead to depression. Being by yourself is by far the hardest challenge. Not being with your family for the holidays or weekends might leave a tremendous void that can spill over into a drivers work habit. It’s true that one can communicate and see their loved ones on their mobile device but it simply is not the same as being there in person. One has to first accept the lifestyle of being on the road and understand what it brings along with it. Just basic hygiene like going to the bathroom and showering need to be strategically figured out before heading out on a long haul delivery. It’s not like driving a car where you can pull off any exit and search for a hotel or gas station. The driver needs to know the route and in most cases will spend the night at a truck stop which in most cases can attend to all their physical needs. It truly is a type of lifestyle which one has to be ready for and understand prior to getting into it.
In Trucking Industry Experience Is King
The first year of being a trucker could be a long and grueling experience. Pay is not great and you often have to ride with an instructor. This is not like the drivers ed course that you took when you were a teenager. This instructor will share the same cabin with you for weeks and point out to you what you did wrong. At the same time, you will need to get used to the new lifestyle of always being on the road. Even local delivery companies like UPS will require a certain amount of hours to be with your instructor. If you are not getting along with the instructor it’s important to let a superior authority know as they can set you up with someone else. The last thing you want is to be next to someone for multiple days that you can’t stand.
However, once you are past your first year and gained a bit of experience things will gradually improve. The progression for better pay will quickly accelerate and by then you will have gotten used to the lifestyle of always being on the road. Most importantly you will be more skillful in driving your rig and begin to cover more mileage over a shorter period of time. But do not for a second think you're out of the woods. Truck drivers need to continue on in their learning mode and never get too comfortable in order not to become complacent. Getting too confident is never good especially when you're operating a 16 wheeler, weighing over 5,000 pounds. It’s at that moment when you begin hitting stuff and making poor navigational choices. Austin Kelon said it best, “Attempt mastery but always remain a student”.
Intermodal Transportation Companies
Working for an intermodal trucking company might give you a work life balance that’s far better then an OTR or regional driver. Intermodal trucking involves two or more different modes of transportation in conveying goods whether it's by ship by plane by train or by truck. Drivers will typically drive a trailer chassis and pick up a container from a train or ship yard. Usually, intermodal companies will be relatively close to one of these shipping ports and require the driver to haul shipments within a short distance. Sometimes they may just have to drop an empty container at a customer to load pallets and pick up the load later on that day. When working for an intermodal freight company the runs usually stay the same depending on customer demand.
Felix Robinson worked for a few trucking companies in Kansas City, MO and found that working as an intermodal truck driver works best for himself and his family. He gets up around 5 am and takes along a fresh lunch his wife prepared the night before. While Felix is at work his wife is at home taking care of the kids kind of like the way family life used to be in America. After a full day of work he heads home to greet his wife and kids.
Local driving is a nice option for those who love truck driving. However it goes without saying that logistics would be non- functional if it were not for the OTR and regional truck drivers. It is they who enable us to get goods from the East Coast to the West Coast in just a couple of days which plays a major role in our local economies. When we go shopping for Chiquita bananas at a local Walmart or Whole Foods, it is kind of expected for them to be in their usual spot. But there were many logistics points and utilization of ships, trains, trucks, and local delivery vans that all had played an important role in getting products to the grocery shelf. Next time you happen to stop by a rest area on the interstate and happen to see a truck driver say “hello” and ask them “how are you doing?”. It’s a hard feat to be a truck driver and they will always play an important role in our daily lives.