What Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers Do
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another.
Working as a long-haul truck driver is a lifestyle choice because these drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time.
How to Become a Heavy or Tractor-trailer Truck Driver
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and attend a professional truck driving school. They must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
The median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $45,260 in May 2019.
Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations. As the demand for goods increases, more truck drivers will be needed to keep supply chains moving.
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Most tractor-trailer drivers are long-haul drivers and operate trucks with a total weight exceeding 26,000 pounds for the vehicle, passengers, and cargo. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes that sometimes span several states.
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers typically do the following:
- Drive long distances
- Report any incidents encountered on the road to a dispatcher
- Follow all applicable traffic laws
- Secure cargo for transport, using ropes, blocks, chains, or covers
- Inspect their trailers before and after the trip and record any defects they find
- Maintain a log of their working hours, following all federal and state regulations
- Report serious mechanical problems to the appropriate people
- Keep their trucks and associated equipment clean and in good working order
Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers’ routes are assigned by a dispatcher, but some independent drivers still plan their own routes. When planning routes, drivers must take into account any road restrictions that prohibit large trucks. Drivers also must plan legally required rest periods into their trip.
Some drivers have one or two routes that they drive regularly, and other drivers take many different routes throughout the country. In addition, some drivers have routes that include Mexico or Canada.
Companies sometimes use two drivers, known as teams, on long runs to minimize downtime. On these team runs, one driver sleeps in a berth behind the cab while the other drives.
Certain cargo requires drivers to adhere to additional safety regulations. Some heavy truck drivers who transport hazardous materials, such as chemical waste, must take special precautions when driving and may carry specialized safety equipment in case of an accident. Other drivers, such as those carrying liquids, oversized loads, or cars, must follow rules that apply specifically to them.
Some long-haul truck drivers, also called owner-operators, buy or lease trucks and go into business for themselves. In addition to their driving tasks, owner-operators have business tasks, including finding and keeping clients and doing administrative work.
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers held about 2.0 million jobs in 2019. The largest employers of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers were as follows:
Working as a long-haul truck driver is a lifestyle choice because these drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time. They spend much of this time alone. Driving a truck can be a physically demanding job as well. Driving for many consecutive hours can be tiring, and some drivers must load and unload cargo.
Injuries and Illnesses
Because of the potential for traffic accidents, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.
Although fatalities are uncommon, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.
Most heavy tractor-trailer drivers work full time. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the hours that a long-haul truck driver may work. Drivers may not work more than 14 hours straight, comprising up to 11 hours driving and the remaining time doing other work, such as unloading cargo. Between working periods, drivers must have at least 10 hours off duty. Drivers also are limited to driving no more than 60 hours within 7 days or 70 hours within 8 days; then drivers must take 34 hours off before starting another 7- or 8-day run. Drivers must record their hours in a logbook. Truck drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Passenger Vehicle Drivers
Passenger vehicle drivers operate buses, taxis, and other modes of transportation to take people from place to place.
|See How to Become One||$33,300|
Delivery Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Workers
Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers pick up, transport, and drop off packages and small shipments within a local region or urban area.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$32,020|
Hand Laborers and Material Movers
Hand laborers and material movers manually move freight, stock, or other materials.
|No formal educational credential||$28,710|
Material Recording Clerks
Material recording clerks track product information in order to keep businesses and supply chains on schedule.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$30,010|
Workers in railroad occupations ensure that passenger and freight trains safely run on time. They may drive trains, coordinate the activities of the trains, or operate signals and switches in the rail yard.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$65,020|
Water transportation workers operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water.
|See How to Become One||$57,330|
For more information about truck drivers, visit
For more information about truck driving schools and programs, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/heavy-and-tractor-trailer-truck-drivers.htm (visited ).