12 TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST 12 MONTHS ON THE ROADEvery new job has a learning curve, but it can be steep with truck driving!
Gaining your confidence as a new truck driver will take time, but we promise you will get there.
To aid you along in your CDL journey, we have compiled a list of 12 tips for your first 12 months on the road:
1. Learn your truck.
There’s a reason that the DOT requires a pre-trip inspection every time you get on the road! It is impossible to do your job well if you do not understand the way your truck works.
However, beyond just knowing your truck well enough to conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection, learning the ins-and-outs of your truck will help you become a better driver. Driver Safety Trainer Sean Randall stresses how useful it can be to read the owner’s manual of your truck.
“There’s so much more that your truck can do that you don’t know anything about,” says Randall. “It’ll make your job easier – I promise.”
2. Practice your backing OFTEN.
In your first year as a driver, take every opportunity you can to practice backing when the conditions are good so you aren’t stuck practicing when they aren’t. There’s nothing worse than pulling into a truck stop at the end of an exhausting day only to find that the only available spot is a difficult back.
The old cliché is true – practice makes perfect. With time, backing will get easier. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while you are still learning backing techniques:
Follow the track of your trailer tires.
There is no such thing as getting out and looking too much, but if you GOAL too little, the results can be disastrous.
Take your time – don’t worry about other drivers or people who may be waiting. They were new at this once too.
3. Always have a plan.
Before you drive your first mile, make sure you feel familiar with your route. Give yourself an idea of where the truck stops are along your route and approximately how far you can go each day.
“Have a plan for today, tomorrow, this week and next week,” says OTR Driver Recruiter and former driver Tony Doll. “Keep your mind moving forward. Always be asking, ‘What’s next? What can I do now to help me later?’”
As soon as you are assigned a route, search for the delivery address on Google Maps to look at the docks. This will help you visualize your plan of action far in advance so you aren’t left scrambling when you arrive at the yard.
Another great tool for trip-planning is the Rand-MacNally Motor Carrier’s Road Atlas. This book will cover restricted routes, weigh station locations, low clearance bridges and anything else you could possibly need to know!
4. Do not eat out all the time.
Just like your truck, your body needs fuel to make it through the day. Even though it is easy, do not eat out all the time. It is not good for your body OR your wallet!
There are thousands of truck meal recipes out there, and investing in some quality cooking equipment for your truck will more than pay for itself in saved time, money and calories. From sandwiches to crock pot meals to grill food – there are countless options! And, all Magnum OTR trucks are equipped with a refrigerator to keep your food nice and cold.
5. Read your signs.
Four-wheelers can oftentimes get away with not reading road signs. Truck drivers? Not so much.
From low clearance warnings that can prevent you from losing the top of your truck to mile markers and destination signs that help you give dispatch an accurate ETA, road signs just cannot be ignored while driving a commercial vehicle.
Not paying attention could cost you lost time or a fine from the DOT, but it could also cost you your life if it leads to an accident.
6. Get a mentor.
There are a lot of things about truck driving that you can’t learn in the classroom, so finding a veteran willing to pass along some of their knowledge will prove to be invaluable in your first year as a driver. Their experience and expertise can prevent you from making the same mistakes they did in the early years of their career.
Potential mentors could be your driver trainer, someone else at your company or even a stranger who helps you back into a tricky spot at a truck stop! Many experienced drivers are more than willing to take a rookie under their wing – you just have to find them.
7. Don’t isolate yourself.
Spending weeks away from your family is incredibly hard. On top of this, many drivers can go entire days without speaking to another person. Truck driving can be a very lonely profession, so it’s critical that you avoid isolating yourself while on the road.
While you may be in the cab by yourself, know that you are not in this alone. At Magnum, every driver has a team behind them ensuring their success. We are all in this together, so do not be afraid to ask other drivers or your driver manager for help.
8. Ask questions.
No one expects you to be an expert the second you get behind the wheel. In fact, the best truck drivers are still learning new things 30 or 40 years into their career!
There is no such thing as a stupid question, and you would much rather ask a seemingly obvious question than make an avoidable mistake down the line.
“If you’re not getting answers, send the questions in an email so that whoever you are sending them to has time to respond with a full answer,” says Doll.
As a truck driver, you have countless resources at your disposal – driver managers, recruiters, road guides, Google, other drivers, etc. Take advantage of them!
9. Take care of your truck.
Your truck is your home – and your office! Take care of it! A clean and organized space will make both work and down time more enjoyable.
You’ll be surprised by the impact that spending a few minutes at the end of each day tidying up can have. Invest in simple cleaning supplies like Clorox wipes and a cordless, handheld vacuum – it’ll make a world of difference.
10. Take care of yourself.
More important than caring for your truck, though, is caring for yourself! Driving is just as much mental as it is physical, so it is imperative that you care for both your physical and mental health.
While we could write an entire book on this, we’ll just share one critical tip: get good sleep! It will do wonders for both your body and your brain. Aside from the obvious benefits of a good night’s rest like clearer thinking and quicker reflexes, studies have shown that quality zzz’s even has the power to improve your mood!
Also, don’t spend all your time in your truck! Even if you just take a short walk around the rest area during your 30-minute break, the fresh air will do wonders for you.
11. Manage your time well.
Gauging how much time you need to make your scheduled delivery can be tricky, but as you gain more experience throughout your first year, you will soon realize the things you need to do to manage your time most effectively.
“Time management is the biggest difference between a successful, well-paid driver and a driver who sits a lot,” says Doll. “Manage your off-time so that you can be successful and have time to drive.”
Keep in mind that just because your truck can go a certain speed, this does not mean that you will average that speed for your entire trip. A good rule of thumb while you are starting out is to subtract about 10 miles each hour from your trip time. This will give you a buffer for something unexpected to happen.
12. Remember to enjoy it!
At the end of the day, remember to take the time to enjoy and appreciate your new career. After all, truck driving is so much more than a job – it’s a lifestyle!
Whenever you feel discouraged, remember how far you’ve come in such a short time.
While the first year will undoubtedly bring challenges, stay focused and remember why you got into trucking to begin with. Think of your first year as an opportunity to accumulate seat time and become a confident and capable driver.
Your first year will be the toughest, but also the most rewarding.
We asked drivers on our Facebook page to share their best advice for rookies. Here’s what some of them had to say:
- “Patience is the key. Stress with Magnum management, shippers, receivers, traffic, construction, new/old FMCSA rules — whatever causes you stress — stop, breathe, call someone. Don’t hold it in. – Nathan
- “Listen to your trainer. Pay attention to your surroundings. Make your turns wide. Keep checking your mirrors. Don’t get upset. Be patient. Always think about safety. We are like lifeguards — we pay attention to everyone and everything.” – Kevin
- “Be paranoid about your trailer position. Always check your mirrors, even when you think you are clear of obstacles.” – Brian
- “Talk to and learn from other drivers. It has made me a better driver to learn from others.” – Jesse
- “Listen to your body.” – Sean
Explore more topics in our other blog posts.
Hazmat: Everything you need to know before getting an endorsement
Faces of Magnum: Amy Bakken
Faces of Magnum: Jenn Jones