With decades of experience as one of the top truck driving schools in Ontario, we can tell you with absolute confidence that nothing in your training can fully prepare you for the reality of life on the road.
You can attend the best truck driving school. You can put in your hours with your trainer. You can spend your off time playing with games like SCS’s excellent American Truck Simulator for extra practice. But none of these will ever convey the reality of being two thousand miles from home, living out of truck stops for weeks at a time, grabbing sleep whenever you can manage, and still trying to complete your run by the deadline.
Truck driving is truly a lifestyle, and it can come as quite a shock to new drivers. We’re not saying this to scare you, it’s simply how things are. We want our drivers to be as prepared as possible, so in this article, let’s talk about some of the actual day-to-day problems that come up, and how to deal with them.
Advice On Adjusting To The Trucking Life, From A Top Truck Driving School
1 – Getting enough sleep
If there’s one problem that plagues all medium- and long-haul truck drivers, it’s the matter of getting enough sleep. Obviously, this is crucial. Beyond needing sleep to function, if you’re too sleep-deprived, it could reduce your ability to operate your vehicle. A depressing number of trucking accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel, and you do not want that to happen to you.
Now, regulations help with this to some extent. Truck drivers are under strict limits on how many hours they can drive before they’re legally required to get downtime. These vary depending on the province (and/or state, if you’re going to the US) but, for example, in Ontario a driver generally cannot drive more than 13 hours in a day. If the driver hits 14 consecutive hours, they’re required to take a day off. There are also regulations on how many days/hours you can drive in a row before getting a day off.
This is nice in theory, but it creates a new problem. If you’re trying to maximize your on-road hours (and you probably are) then you can easily get into situations where your drive time and your standard sleep hours are totally out of alignment. Like having to stop driving at 3 PM, then resuming work at 1 AM.
To a certain extent, you’ll just need to adapt. We highly recommend installing blackout-level curtains in your cab, to make it easier to sleep during the day. Also, do not be afraid to ask your dispatcher for extra time to sleep. They might grumble, but they know that letting you get a couple more hours of downtime is much better than you getting into an accident.
2 – Toilets and showering
Even the best-equipped sleeper cab isn’t going to have a toilet, much less a shower. There just isn’t room. This means that you’ll be spending a lot of time making runs from your cab to a truck stop whenever you need to do your business. This is a hassle at best and can be a genuine pain if – for example – it’s the middle of winter and you have to trudge across a few hundred meters of snow and ice just to relieve yourself.
Again, to a certain extent, you need to adapt. That said, you can sometimes improvise facilities for yourself if needed. A lot of drivers (especially male drivers) keep a bucket with a lid, lined with a heavy-duty garbage bag, with kitty litter at the bottom. You’d probably also want to keep a few adult diapers around, just in case. If you’re in the middle of nowhere with no truck stops insight, a Depends is far better than nothing.
As far as showering goes, you’ll mostly be doing that at truck stops. The good news is that most major truck stop chains offer showering as a bonus for fill-ups. Policies vary between chains, but it’s generally a variation on “Buy (X) gallons, get a free shower.” Others may have a loyalty card style system with the same result. Either way, you’ll want to take advantage of these offers whenever possible, since otherwise, it’s fairly common for truck stops to charge $10 or even $20 for a shower, and that gets expensive quickly.
Otherwise, though, get used to not taking as many showers as you might like. If your time is short, and you’re choosing between sleep and personal hygiene, you’ll probably choose sleep.
3 – Dealing with traffic
We often caution our drivers against over-relying on their GPS unit, and the problem of traffic is one of the main reasons why. You don’t want to get stuck in a morning traffic jam if you can possibly avoid it!
Pre-planning is key. Before setting off in the “morning,” whatever morning happens to be for you, do some research. Look up the route your GPS is going to suggest, then apply common sense to the situation. Are you going to be going down a major highway in a city during rush hour? If so, you’ll want to manually adjust your route to avoid likely congestion.
There are also plenty of traffic-watching sites which will report on traffic snarls, not to mention other options like using CB radio to keep in touch with other drivers. (Yes, even in the 2020s, most truckers still have a CB.)
If you do find yourself stuck in traffic despite your best efforts, make sure to contact dispatch. They might come up with alternatives or, at least, you’ll keep them updated on your situation.
4 – Keeping yourself fed
Finally, we cannot stress enough how much you need to have a mini-fridge in your cab and some sort of cooking appliance, such as a microwave, toaster oven, or small induction burner. Fortunately, there are options for all of these which are compatible with your truck’s electrical system and/or utility port.
Truck drivers generally don’t eat all that well, and it’s mostly going to be on you to keep yourself as healthy as possible. Going through fast food drive-thrus every day for weeks is going to be terrible for your health, not to mention a drain on your wallet. You’ll want to keep a supply of food in your truck which you can prepare within the cab and is as healthy as you can manage.
You might even be surprised at just how much you can do with a couple of basic appliances, such as a toaster oven and an electric kettle.
Fortunately, It Does Get Better
Your first few weeks on the road will be something of a shock, but it truly does get better. Once you’ve adjusted, you’ll have an amazing career ahead of you, not to mention the sheer freedom that you get from a life on the road.
Certified Truck Driving School in Ontario
5th Wheel Training Institute can help make it happen! We’re a well-respected truck driving school that attracts attention across the shipping industry. We’re one of the top sources for new recruits for numerous Canadian shipping companies!
To start your new life as a trucker, click here and learn more about us!