In my time in the trucking industry, I’ve seen plenty of new drivers come and go. Some are gone before they ever really gotten on the road. Their reasons for leaving and not liking the trucking life can vary significantly from one person to another. I wanted to put together a list of the most common reasons I find that new truckers quit in hopes that it will help those who are considering driving as a career.
Top Reasons Rookie Drivers Quit
1) Stress – This is going to exist in any career that you choose. But stress with trucking can be extremely different than what you may experience in other fields. In trucking, you will be expected to maneuver tight spaces, keep an eye out for other drivers and be mindful of weather conditions all while hauling up to 80,000 lbs of cargo. A minor slip up could be the cause of a major accident that involves serious injury or even death.
Many new drivers are blindsided by the stress levels that they feel in these extreme conditions. An 18 hour haul to Dallas doesn’t sound bad until you roll into town at rush hour. Stop and go traffic in a semi can be brutal and certainly test your patience, stress levels and frustration.
Traffic is probably the most common stress tester, but there are certainly more. When driving across the plains, it can be difficult to imagine how the flat bore landscape could turn stressful. However, a sudden pop up thunderstorm on a summer afternoon can create deadly tornadic weather. Even if the storm doesn’t produce a tornado you could be forced to deal with driving in heavy rains and fight extreme crosswinds that threaten to blow your truck over.
Other scenarios that could prove overwhelming are picking up or dropping off a load in large metro areas such as New York City.
Traveling thru the Rocky Mountains are also a common complaint for truckers, even when there’s not snow and ice to battle.
2) Being far from home – This list has nothing to do with being away from family. We will cover that later. This entry on the list deals simply with having to deal with the fact you may be thousands of miles from home at any point in time. There’s a certain level of loneliness that can arise when you take a moment and realize that home is in southeast Georgia and you just turned off your truck somewhere on the California and Oregon border.
For someone that has never been far from home before, this can be an absolutely overwhelming feeling the first time you do it. The realization of the fact that you are days from home and the closest person that you know is thousands of miles away can bring on a panic attack in a matter of minutes.
Ultimately, you won’t know if this will bother you until you are in the situation. If you are just starting out, just be mindful of this. Try to take time to unwind and keep your mind busy. In time, this is a feeling that will fade away the more you are out on the road.
3) Picking the Wrong Company to Start with – I would say this is one of the top 5 reasons new drivers quit. However, I feel it is one of the easiest stressers that you can control. Unfortunately, many new drivers don’t do the proper research to prevent future problems. Everyone feels a sense of excitement and accomplishment once they get their CDL. In the midst of that excitement, they jump at the first job offer they get because they are ready to get on the road and start making money.
While it is completely understandable for you to want to start earning your salary as quickly as possible, it is extremely important to do the proper research to ensure the company you are going to work for is a good fit. Getting started a week or two late because you waited for an offer from a better company is far better than starting sooner for a bad company. The bad company will lead to frustration which often leads to you leaving the company and starting over with a different one.
With all the resources available online now, there is no reason to skip researching a possible employer. A basic Google search of the company’s name will often turn up plenty of reviews from past employees. If you don’t find any information from a Google search, take the time to join a trucking forum. Then post a question asking about the company. Odds are, you will get plenty of comments to help you feel confident in whatever decision you make going forward.
4) Not home every night – This is probably the number one reason new drivers that have families quit. Personally, I don’t think this applies too much to drivers that are single and have no long term boyfriend/girlfriend at home. For drivers with a family, it can be extremely hard to not see your wife and kids every night. This will be even more magnified if the driver has never had a job that has taken them away from home before.
A buddy of mine got into trucking a few years ago. I tried to warn him as much as possible that the first year was going to be tough, especially since he had two kids under 5 years of age at home. He had never traveled much and only been to a handful of states. Prior to getting his license, he worked factory jobs in town so he was always at home at night. His first long trip out west was hard – both on him and his wife. It took him a while to adjust to being in the truck alone at night with your thoughts to yourself. Those thoughts typically creep towards “I wonder what (wife’s name) and (kid’s names) are doing?” and then “I wonder if they miss me?”.
Meanwhile, his wife was struggling at home because suddenly she was now a single mom with two kids while he was out on the road. She suddenly found herself having to do everything around the house when he was away. Plus, with two small kids, she didn’t have much time to talk to him while he was on the road. That caused him to start wondering if she even cared that he was away. Fortunately, they go thru it. It took a while and they both had to work at it, but he’s still a truck with about 10 years of service.
5) Long days – Many new drivers don’t realize the long days that come with driving a truck. It’s rather common to have a 14-hour day and spend 11 hours behind the wheel. It can be extremely draining sitting behind the wheel for that long. On top of it, you have to find a place to park for the night and sometimes it’s hard to unwind in the cab of the truck that you’ve just spent 14+ hours in. I think it’s very important to find a hobby or activity that you can do to help distract your mind, even if it’s only for a few minutes each day.
6) Relationship strain – This is one reason that truckers quit that doesn’t get mentioned enough. It doesn’t matter how good of a relationship you have with your spouse or significant other. Once you get away from home and aren’t home several days or weeks at a time, you will have issues with your spouse until you both adjust. This will be amplified if there are kids at home. If there has ever been trust issues in your relationship (either way) with infidelity, it is highly likely this becomes a probably at some point. Certainly not saying the actual act of cheating will happen, but the thought will certainly creep into the driver or spouse’s mind.
When the two of you are apart for a long period of time, it is certain that each of you will start wondering if the other is seeing anyone else. The best thing to do is to communicate. Both before you get out on the road and while you are away. Go ahead and have these conversations well before you leave if you are concerned about this. It’s best to talk about it and acknowledge that it’s on your mind before you leave. Nothing’s much worse than being in an argument with your significant other while you are thousands of miles away.
7) Accountability – I think this is a big reason many drivers quit, but most won’t admit to it. This is especially true for younger drivers, but older people can suffer from it too. When you carry a load for someone, you will be held to very black and white standards that measure your success. Did you deliver the load on time? Is it in good shape?
Unfortunately, many people have come to believe that making excuses for their shortfalls are valid. This isn’t true in the trucking world and you will have a hard time succeeding if you are guilty of this. Sure, it’s impossible to meet every deadline. Things happen. Weather delays and traffic issues are going to cause you to miss some deadlines. However, if a majority of your deliveries are late – the problem likely resides with the driver.
I once knew a guy that drove and took constant breaks. He was always late and could never understand why he was always in trouble with his employer. He would seriously find an excuse to pull over once every couple hours. He needed a bathroom break. He was certain he heard an odd noise coming from the truck. He needed something to eat. Always had an excuse. I tried to explain to him that he has to keep the wheels turning or he’s not making progress. His argument was that his stops were quick so it didn’t matter.
I think it’s impossible to make any stop in under 15 minutes. Even if you are stopping at a rest stop, by the time you pull off, get parked, go to the restroom and get back on the road at full speed there is a high likelihood that 15 minutes have passed. If you are averaging 60 MPH, you’ve just hit yourself for 15 miles on that one stop. Do that same stop 4 times in a day and you’ve set yourself back 60 miles. The quick stops add up quickly!
8) Travel isn’t glamorous – Many people get into trucking for the belief that they are getting paid to live out an adventure while traveling on the open road. There’s some truth to that thought, but ultimately this is a job. It’s a hard job. It’s one where you have to focus and pay attention because you are hauling tens of thousands of pounds of cargo down the interstate at 60+ mph.
Yes, you will certainly get to see some amazing scenery, but many times, your pick up and drop offs are going to be in less than desirable locations. Often times, large distribution centers or complexes are built in areas where the cost of land is cheap. Therefore, you are going to visiting industrial parks for the majority of your deliveries. It’s not impossible to get out and sight see on you time off, but it’s not something that you will be able to do often.
9) Lack of proper training – This is a big one. This is a great reason why it is important to properly research the company you are thinking about joining before doing so. Training is a must that is extremely important for new drivers. It’s important that the company you are working with values the importance of training new drivers. Don’t look at training as an obstacle that’s preventing you from getting out on the road. Look at it as something that is there to help you to ensure you are fully prepared to be on the road when you are out on your own.
Be sure to ask questions. Even if you are worried they are dumb. All new drivers have to start somewhere. It’s best to get the answers to your questions while you have a trainer with you than to have to find the answer on your own when you are thousands of miles from home.
10) Pay – Starting pay for a trucker is not the greatest. It takes time to build up your experience. However, once you prove you are a good driver and build up a clean record, you’ll be able to earn a better salary. Far too often, I see guys go to school and start driving. After a few months they realize the pay isn’t what the recruiter promised or it’s less than the amounts they read about online. It’s important to look at the correct salary. A new owner operator will make significantly more than a company driver. This is due to the large amount of expenses that OO’s have to cover to maintain their truck. Again, this is another example of not having the right expectations when starting out. Do you research so there aren’t surprised later.
11) Trusting the recruiters – Never take the word of a recruiter at face value. Always research the facts and statements give you. Think about it, they have a huge financial interest in getting you to sign you name on their paperwork to get your signed. This is true of all recruiters whether you are talking college sports, the military or anyone else where getting you to sign for something involves a financial commission for themselves. A common complaint among new drivers is that the “recruiter told me I’d make $60,000 when I was starting out.” Reality is, the recruiter that told you that information was quoting owner operator start salaries. Owner operators (O/O’s) make more money but have much more at risk.
Another complaint is that recruiters will tell you the 6-8 weeks of training that you start with is paid. This is true, but at a MUCH lower rate. In fact, the pay is often in the range of $250. Just make sure you ask specific questions when working with a recruiter. Try to get everything in writing. It’s important to know these important facts to ensure you are making a fully informed decision.
12) Poor Trucks – A common saying in trucking is that if they wheels are turning, you aren’t making money. Repairs and truck problems will hit everyone at some point, but working for a trucking company that doesn’t maintain their fleet properly can be extremely frustrating. Broke down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere to get a tow or repair completed will certainly test your patience.
It’s not just breakdowns that you have to worry about. It’s also the quality of life you will have to endure in the truck. It’s easy to dismiss this, but driving across Texas or any of the southern states during the summer is not easy if the air conditioner on your truck isn’t work.
13) Poor Team Driver – Life on the road can be brutal if you are forced into team driving with someone that you don’t work well with. Sitting in a small cab with someone else for hours a day can be extremely rough. Most people couldn’t do a long road trip with their spouse in these conditions, so having to do it with a complete stranger while being responsible for a large load can be even more of a burden. Should you get into a situation like this, don’t assume all trucking is like this. Try looking for another company to work for that doesn’t lean heavily on team driving.
14) Life on the road – Living out of the cab of your truck is far more of a challenge than many new drivers expect. Once you start driving, the truck becomes your work space and your home. It’s hard to replicate this and prepare for it until you are actually out on the road. In addition to the amount of time you are spending in this one area, it’s an incredibly small area. When I first started driving I had trouble unwinding. I’d drive all day, get parked and would be ready to do something outside of my truck. I ended up finding some hobbies that I could focus on when out on the road at the end of the day. (For a list of ways to entertain yourself while on the road, take a look at my article here.)
In time, you’ll get adjusted to being in your truck nonstop. That adjustment period varies from driver to driver.
Being out on the road can also be lonesome. Many drivers suffer from depression because they are out on the road by themselves with hours of time to think. For many people, this is the first time they’ve had this much time to be left to their thoughts with no interruptions. Being alone with your thoughts can be even more difficult if things are not going well at home with your spouse and kids. That’s why it’s important to have open communication at home to help relieve these issues.
15) Thin Skinned – As we’ve listed here, there are numerous things in your day that can bring about stress. In addition to those items, many drivers start their career and are ‘thinned skinned.” One thing to keep in mind is that there is going to be some rough days when you start out. You are going to make some mistakes. You are going to get your butt chewed. It’s just part of becoming a seasoned trucker. In time, this stuff will roll off of you, but in the beginning it can be tough and overwhelming when you pile it on with everything else.
Some trucking companies treat their drivers terribly. That’s why it’s important to do your research before signing on with someone. Some companies have terrible dispatches that are disrespectful or just don’t know what they are doing. You have to learn to work thru it. Figure out how to let it not to bother you for an extended period of time.
One example of this that I experienced was the fact that my dispatch told me my route to my destination. They told me when it needed to be there. What they failed to account for in their calculations of the due date was that there was a serious snowstorm along about 60% of my route. I tried everything I could, but I showed up a day lay to the drop off. The company I delivered to complained to me about being late. Dispatch complained to me when I called in. There was absolutely nothing I could have done though. Sure, I was mad at the time, but in the end, nothing is going to change. You take the punches and move on to the next load and earn the next paycheck.
16) Wrong Expectations – To some degree, Hollywood has hurt the expectations of those entering into the trucking industry. It’s not nearly as glamorous as the movies Smokey and the Bandit and Convey portray it. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there is some adventure and definitely some excitement as a driver. However, most of your time is sitting behind the wheel trying to get to your destination as quickly and safely as possible. Driving is much harder work that most people expect. It’s stressful and exhausting. It will be much easier to adjust to the role if prepare yourself with these facts and manage your expectations.