Regulations for becoming a truck driver vary but are associated with the legal age of obtaining a commercial driver’s license. Typically, it’s 21 for truck drivers crossing state lines. However, we read in Smart Trucking that shortages of truck drivers are driving changes in the industry. A recent pilot program allows people as young as 18 to start driving interstate semi-trucks as apprentice drivers under the supervision of experienced drivers.
Starting a career as a truck driver has many benefits, including great pay and flexible hours. Can you be a truck driver at 18? Since the specific age requirements and licensing procedures may vary by location, it’s essential to check the regulations in your area.
1. Starting Your Trucking Career at 18: Is it Possible?
At 18, you can get a CDL license in every state since it’s the minimum age requirement. However, once you obtain your CDL, you may still only be able to drive within your state of residence until you turn 21.
It’s also a good idea to consider enrolling in a reputable truck driving school to receive the necessary training and education to become a skilled and safe truck driver. Additionally, you may want to gain experience by working in related roles or industries until you meet the age requirement for full-time truck driving.
Even though young adults are not driving interstate routes yet, some trucking companies have entered a pilot program. NPR reports that the program initiated by the Department of Transportation is starting slowly. Still, its approval by Congress in 2021 aims to enroll several apprentices into the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program.
However, safety comes first, and as a young truck driver, you must get the training to maneuver these large vehicles under all driving conditions, including crowded streets. Additional endorsements are required for driving specialized trucks like those carrying hazardous materials.
Remember that the rules and requirements can vary by location, so it’s essential to consult your local Department of Motor Vehicles to get accurate and up-to-date information for your specific situation.
2. Age Requirements for Becoming a Truck Driver
Age requirements for becoming a truck driver can vary by country and even by state or province within a country. In many places, the following age requirements typically apply:
In the United States, to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) across state lines, you must be at least 21 years old to obtain a Class A CDL (Commercial Driver’s License). However, most states allow individuals as young as 18 to get a Class A CDL for intrastate operation. The age requirements for other types of CDLs may vary.
Canada’s age requirement for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) varies by province. It is generally 18 or 19 years old for intrastate operation and 21 years old for interprovincial (between provinces) operation.
The European Union’s minimum age for a professional driver’s license (the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence or CPC) varies by country, making it 18 or 21.
The age requirements for a heavy vehicle driver’s license in Australia vary by state, but it’s typically 18.
These are general guidelines, and the specific age requirements and regulations can change over time and differ by location. It’s crucial to check with the relevant authorities in your area for the most accurate and up-to-date information on age requirements for becoming a truck driver. While you may be eligible for a CDL at a certain age, some trucking companies have age-related hiring policies and may prefer more experienced drivers, which could impact your job prospects as a younger driver.
3. Exploring the Possibilities: Trucking Careers for 18-Year-Olds
While some restrictions exist on trucking careers for 18-year-olds, there are still opportunities in the industry. Firstly, you can enroll in a truck driving to obtain your CDL. The earlier you start your training, the sooner you prepare to become a qualified driver when you meet the age requirement.
In some states, you can gain experience even before turning 18 by applying for a seasonal license to drive agricultural vehicles (Idaho is one example), helping to advance your career later.
These are some potential options and career paths for individuals who are 18 years old and interested in the trucking industry:
Intrastate Trucking: Some states in the U.S. allow individuals as young as 18 to obtain a CDL for intrastate (within the state) operations. You can explore job opportunities within your state until you reach age 21, at which point you can engage in interstate trucking.
Apprenticeships and Entry-Level Positions: Some trucking companies and carriers offer apprenticeship programs or entry-level positions for younger drivers. These programs often provide on-the-job training and mentorship to help you gain experience.
Delivery Driver: Many delivery driver jobs for local businesses or courier services only require a regular driver’s license (non-CDL). Besides local pickups and deliveries, you can also apply for jobs where you drive dump or tow trucks or deliver construction materials or lumber. You can also apply for truck driving jobs at oil fields and other work sites. These jobs can help you gain experience in commercial driving.
Warehouse Jobs: Consider working in a warehouse or distribution center where you can gain the relevant skills and experience with forklifts and other equipment that can help with a future career in trucking.
Mechanic or Maintenance Technician: Another option is to work as a mechanic or maintenance technician for trucks and other commercial vehicles. Working on trucks can give you valuable insight into the mechanical aspects of the industry.
Dispatcher or Logistics Coordinator: You could work as a dispatcher or logistics coordinator for a trucking company, gaining experience in route planning, coordinating shipments, and managing logistics.
Freight Broker: While this is not a driving role, you can work as a freight broker, connecting shippers and carriers. It’s a job that can help you understand the industry and build connections.
Use these start-off jobs to gain experience and build a good reputation in the industry during your late teens and early twenties. These careers can lead to more opportunities as you reach age 21 and become eligible for interstate trucking.
4. Overcoming Challenges: Becoming a Young Truck Driver
Becoming a young truck driver can come with its challenges, but you can overcome these obstacles with the right approach and determination. Here are some tips to help you navigate the challenges of starting a career as a young truck driver:
Education and Training: Invest in proper training and education by enrolling in a reputable truck driving school to gain the necessary skills and practical experience.
Networking: Connect with experienced truck drivers and industry professionals for valuable insights and job leads. Truck driver shortages are real, but networking can help land the right job.
Commitment to Safety: Younger drivers may face stereotypes about their safety records. Prove your commitment to safety by adhering to all regulations and best practices, helping you build a good reputation in the industry.
Clean Driving Record: Traffic violations and accidents can hinder your progress and opportunities, so maintain a clean driving record.
Patience and Persistence: Landing the ideal job or route may take time. Be patient and persistent in your job search and career progression.
Flexibility: Be open to different types of trucking jobs and routes. Starting with local or regional routes may be more accessible for young drivers, and as you gain experience, you can pursue long-haul opportunities.
Professionalism: Present yourself professionally by dressing appropriately, having a well-maintained appearance, and communicating effectively with employers and customers.
Customer Service: To set you apart, provide excellent customer service when interacting with customers and clients.
Leverage Technology: Embrace technology and tools that can make your job easier and more efficient. GPS navigation, electronic logging devices (ELDs), and other tech can help you manage your routes and tasks effectively.
Physical and Mental Health: Long hours on the road can be physically demanding, and the isolation of trucking can be mentally challenging. Develop strategies to maintain your physical and mental health.
Financial Responsibility: The costs of becoming a truck driver, including training and obtaining a CDL, can be significant. Develop a budget and save for your career.
Continuous Learning: Stay updated on industry trends, regulations, and best practices to ensure you remain competitive.
Stay Informed and Legal: Comply with all local, state, and federal regulations, avoiding legal troubles and keeping your career on track.
5. Licensing and Training: Essential Steps for 18-Year-Old Truck Drivers
Though each state tests new drivers and issues CDLs, the regulations come from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). To get your CDL, you generally need:
- Be at least 18
- Have a valid non-commercial driver’s license for at least the past two years
- Prove your residency and citizenship with any of the following documents – a passport, driver’s license, or Social Security card
- If you’re not a citizen, provide documentation showing your legal immigration status and your right to work
- Pass a DOT physical
- Submit to DOT criminal and driving background checks
- You must speak, read, and understand English
- Pass the written exams, skills tests, and behind-the-wheel tests
If you want the Hazardous Materials (HazMat) endorsement, you must undergo a federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) threat assessment.
6. Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting Your Trucking Career Early
There are several advantages and disadvantages to starting your trucking career early:
- You only need a few months to get your CDL
- You can work independently
- Your work will allow you to see the country
- While trucking, you use your hands and your mind, meaning it’s not a tedious job
- Safe, responsible drivers have no difficulties finding steady work in the field
- You have several job options available until you can start taking interstate positions
- Plenty of career advancement opportunities in specific, high-paying niches
- Stress associated with driving large vehicles in unfamiliar areas
- Lack of respect from the general public, law enforcement, and other people you come into contact with
- Some truck driving jobs require extended periods away from friends and family
- High risks associated with commercial truck driving
- Lots of regulations
- Relatively low pay for the responsibilities
- Eating, sleeping, and showering at truck stops
7. Navigating the Road to Success: Tips for 18-Year-Old Truck Drivers
Becoming a successful truck driver at 18 can be a rewarding journey but comes with unique challenges. Here are some tips to help you navigate the road to truck driving success as a young driver:
Education and Licensing
Invest in comprehensive training from a reputable truck driving school to gain everything you need to become a safe and efficient driver. Consider taking additional courses in defensive driving and load securement.
Safety should be your top priority. Follow all safety regulations, maintain equipment, and practice defensive driving techniques. A strong safety record can open doors to better job opportunities.
Ensure you meet all the licensing and compliance requirements in your region. Understand the specific age and licensing regulations for commercial drivers in your area.
The trucking industry evolves, and staying informed through continuous learning is essential to remain competitive and safe.
Professionalism and Networking
Present yourself professionally by maintaining your appearance, communications, and interactions with customers and colleagues. Building a good reputation for professionalism can lead to more opportunities.
Embrace technologies used in the industry like GPS systems, electronic logging devices (ELDs), etc.; they make your job easier and ensure you remain reliable.
Network with experienced drivers and industry professionals for their valuable advice and insights. Join trucking associations or online forums.
Flexibility at the start of your trucking career can lead to more job opportunities and a broader range of experiences.
Plan Your Career Path
Consider your long-term goals. Determine if you want to specialize in a particular type of trucking, such as long-haul or local routes. Planning your career path can help you make informed decisions.
Set personal goals for your career to motivate you and manage your finances so you can save for the future. A successful career also requires that you remain well-informed of the industry’s regulations.
Finally, the demands of long hours of isolation on the road can be physically and mentally taxing. Develop a routine that includes exercise and stress management.
Navigating the road to success in truck driving requires experience, commitment to safety, and professionalism. Approach your career with dedication and a strong work ethic, and over time, you can achieve your goals in the trucking industry.