7 Realities of Long-Haul Trucking

tractor trailer on the interstate

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Long-haul trucking is one of the most important jobs in the world. These workers transport food, water, clothes and other essentials across the country to keep communities afloat. They’re irreplaceable parts of the supply chain and deserve lots of recognition for their work. 

However, truckers usually don’t seek recognition. They prefer to fly under the radar and do their jobs in silence. As such, the public doesn’t know much about truck drivers’ day-to-day challenges. Here are seven realities of long-haul trucking you should know to better understand the profession.

1. The Days Are Long and Lonely

Most people know truckers work long hours but don’t realize that almost every minute is spent alone. They still use CB radios to communicate with others, but that makes up the majority of their human interaction. People driving through remote areas might not speak to anyone for over 24 hours.

There are some restrictions on how much truckers can drive. They can only drive 70 hours every eight days, after which they must take 34 hours off. There are other daily driving limits drivers must adhere to for their own well-being. Without restrictions, many truckers would be alone on the road for 80-plus hours a week.

2. Many Truckers Sleep Inside Their Cabs

Sleep is a complicated reality of long-haul trucking. Most people spend the night at rest stops with free sleeping accommodations, but many also prefer to sleep inside their cabs. The average truck is more than big enough to fit a twin bed, food and toiletries. Some truckers even bring TVs and gaming consoles to entertain themselves.

Even so, fatigue and sleep deprivation are common problems. Truckers often start driving at the crack of dawn and end 10+ hours later. They’re in a near-constant state of exhaustion and frequently seek relief from coffee and other stimulants.

3. Truckers Face Many Health Risks

Sleep deprivation is just one health risk truckers face. There’s also the obvious heightened risk of getting into an accident. Trucks are much more difficult to control than standard vehicles. Accelerating, braking, merging and other monotonous tasks can lead to crashes that could ruin their careers. This is the daily reality of long-haul truck drivers.

Even if a trucker completes the trip unscathed, they still face many personal health issues. They sit behind the wheel all day and have bad diets with many processed foods. As a result, 69% of long-haul truckers are obese compared to the average workplace’s obesity rate of 31%. They’re also prone to neck and back injuries and face constant exposure to harmful pollutants.

Truck on the road, late day.

4. Some Truckers Are Independent Contractors

Most truck drivers work for trucking companies, but a small percentage are independent contractors with their own rigs. These truckers-for-hire do all the preventive maintenance themselves and have the freedom to customize the vehicle as they please. The average 18-wheeler can travel millions of miles, so these drivers can remain independent for decades if they wish.

5. Most Get Paid by the Mile

Truckers can get paid in three ways: a salary, hourly or mileage rate. Most trucking companies choose the third option. The stingiest companies use the “paid miles” standard, which pays the trucker for the journey’s estimated distance. For example, a drive from Chicago to New York is 790 miles on paper, but that number doesn’t account for any detours.

The “practical miles” rate is more generous, compensating truckers for any mile driven on the job, whether or not it contributes to the direct route. That means they still get paid for going to buy food or gas. The average wage varies by state, but most truckers can expect to make well above $40,000 in a good year.

6. A Small Fraction of Truckers Are Women

Long-haul trucking is predominantly a man’s business, but about 15.7% of truck drivers are women. The job’s physical stress, combined with traditional gender roles, have kept females out of the trucking workforce for decades. With labor shortages continuing to plague the profession, women have an opportunity to assume a larger role.

7. Job Turnover Is Extremely High

Most trucking companies have a hard time holding onto drivers. Turnover is such a constant problem that managers are willing to pay for training. This phenomenon is a testament to the reality of long-haul trucking’s demanding schedule. It takes an uncommon amount of resiliency to stay in the business for more than a few years.

Trucking Is Not for the Faint of Heart

There are some enjoyable aspects of long-haul trucking, such as goofing off with other truckers on CB radios. However, this career path is not for the faint of heart. Drivers spend long hours away from loved ones and endure great physical and mental stress. Truckers might not get compensated like essential workers, but they’re necessary in every sense of the word.

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