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Over-The-Road (OTR) Trucking: What It Is & Job Requirements

what is OTR trucking?

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About 3.5 million truck drivers operate in the U.S. today, moving 71% of all the freight in America. Among them are local drivers, regional drivers, hotshot truckers, and over-the-road (OTR) truck drivers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 2 million truck drivers worked as long-haul truck drivers in 2019.

These dedicated professionals haul all the things that make modern life possible. They power the economy, in some cases bringing much-needed products across hundreds of miles to get them to their destination.

Still, there is a shortage of truck drivers these days due to mounting pressures in the industry. Here, we’ll explore what over-the-road trucking is, what these types of drivers do, and what challenges are causing the driver shortage.

What is over-the-road trucking (OTR)?

Over-the-road trucking involves hauling freight over long distances, often across state lines and even national borders. An over-the-road trucker might spend 3-4 weeks on the road at a time, sleeping in either the truck’s cabin or at hotels and motels along the way.

It’s common to see two-person OTR teams on the road instead of just solo drivers. With someone else driving the route, the team can operate in shifts, ensuring they stay compliant with driving regulations without losing time on the road.

OTR drivers haul all types of freight, including heavy machinery, vehicles, construction materials, and consumer goods. Many truck drivers get their start as an OTR driver. But plenty of seasoned drivers pursue an OTR career because there is always a high demand for OTR drivers, and they can often earn higher salaries.

OTR trucking vs. regional trucking vs. local trucking

Although OTR truckers haul similar types of freight as the drivers who go short distances, there are some key differences between over-the-road trucking, regional trucking, and local trucking. Most of these differences relate to the time drivers spend on the road, but they also relate to the equipment used for each job and the amount you can expect to earn.

Regional trucking

Regional truck drivers only move goods in a specific part of the country. Often, regions are broken up into a collection of states based on where they are in the continental U.S. For example, you might be a regional trucker if you only operate in the Northeast, the Midwest, or the Southwest.

Regional driving generally pays a little bit less than OTR trucking, but some drivers favor it because it gives them more opportunity to spend time with their families. You might be on the road for several days at a time, but your routes may coincide with weekends or regular days off.

Local trucking

Local trucking is short-range trucking, and it generally pays less than regional and OTR trucking. In this type of position, you’ll usually be home by the end of the workday, much like if you worked an hourly job.

You might deliver goods from a factory or warehouse to stores or from one business to another within about a 200-mile square radius. Local truckers don’t always cross state lines, but they might it’s necessary to complete their route.

In this type of job, you’ll be on small local roads more often than you would with a regional or OTR position. You might also drive a smaller truck and you could have to make multiple stops to complete your route.

OTR trucking job requirements

There aren’t many barriers to pursuing an OTR trucking, but the most important step in becoming one is getting your commercial driver’s license (CDL). You need this license to legally operate large and heavy vehicles in commerce.

There are three classes of CDL:

  • Class A CDL (most common): Required to operate vehicles with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more (tractor-trailers, tankers, livestock carriers, and flatbeds).
  • Class B CDL: Required to operate a single vehicle that isn’t hitched to a trailer with a combined weight greater than 26,001 pounds or more (tourist busses, school buses, heavy delivery trucks).
  • Class C: Required to operate a single vehicle with a combined weight greater than 26,001 pounds or a vehicle towing another vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds (double trailers, tank trucks, and HAZMAT vehicles).

If you intend to transport hazardous materials as part of your OTR job, you’ll need a special CDL endorsement to do so. This is called the hazardous materials (HAZMAT) endorsement, and you can earn it by taking a CDL HAZMAT test.

The licensing process varies by state, but every state requires you to complete a written test and a practical driving test. These tests are like the ones you took when you got your regular driver’s license, but they are a bit more intensive. You’ll have to prove that you can safely operate a heavy vehicle and that you’re aware of state and federal regulations.

The best place to start is to obtain a CDL handbook from your state. You can study this and take the CDL test on your own if you’d like. Many drivers prefer to take a CDL course at a trucking school to add some structure to the learning process.

OTR trucker salary ranges

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median pay for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $45,260 per year or $21.76 per hour. But trucker salaries vary to a great degree.

According to PayScale, the average OTR truck driver’s salary is $54,690 per year. PayScale also sets the median at $55,000, and salaries range from $38,000 to $77,000 per year.

The average salary of an OTR truck driver is $54,690. The low 10% range is $38k. The high 90% range is $77k. The median is $55k.

(Source: PayScale)

You can increase your pay by applying to specialized jobs that are only available to drivers with endorsements on their CDL. This includes the HAZMAT endorsement. If you decide to drive OTR, you can expect better pay than with other types of trucking jobs.

Pros and cons of Over-the-road trucking

Over-the-road trucking can be challenging. It means being on the road for several days at a time, so many OTR drivers consider it a lifestyle. But with the right attitude, you can earn a good living as an OTR driver.

Here are some perks – the pros – of being an over-the-road trucker:

1. Over-the-road truck driving jobs offer flexibility and freedom.

The nature of the job is independence-the freedom to set your own schedule, take only the loads you want, and making your own decisions and choices. Many OTR drivers simply love driving long highway trips and the appeal of the open road.

2. The money can be good.

The pay for long trips can be appealing, since most OTR truckers are paid a per-mile rate for long distance driving. Generally speaking, long haul OTR driving pays around twenty percent higher than short haul.

3. Over-the-road trucking can be an adventure.

Long haul drivers get to see the country and some pretty spectacular sights that would otherwise cost them money. Some see it as getting paid to travel. 

4. Some do it for the love of big trucks.

Some OTR drivers just love the big, beautiful trucks and being around the massive equipment. The pride of ownership among OTR owner-operators causes offers self-esteem and lifestyle satisfaction.

5. Trucking jobs are plentiful.

Even in tough economic times, the high demand for goods results in lots of job opportunities for OTR drivers. 

Here are some challenges-the cons-of being an OTR truck driver.

1. Electronic logging devices (ELDs) disrupt driver schedules.

The ELD mandate was the biggest regulatory edict to impact the trucking industry since the government introduced CDLs in 1986. Although it’s designed to keep drivers safe and accountable on the road, ELDs can disrupt OTR driver’s schedules.

According to hours of service (HOS) rules, drivers can only drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Drivers can’t drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days and must take 30-minute breaks after 8 cumulative hours of driving. All of this information must be documented through an ELD.

2. Hours in “detention” eat away at your earning potential.

When your route is delayed due to complications where you are picking up your freight or delivering your freight, this is called detention. These types of delays can throw your entire schedule off, which can impact your pay and your ability to comply with HOS rules.

3. Poor infrastructure creates unfavorable conditions.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 65% of major U.S. roads are rated as “less than good condition.”

As an OTR driver, poor infrastructure can directly affect your work. It pays to stay knowledgeable of delays, unfavorable weather, road work, and other conditions along your route.

4. Time away from family can be stressful.

As we mentioned, over-the-road trucking is a lifestyle. It means being away from your family for several days at a time. This can be a challenge for some new drivers, but it’s something most truckers get used to, as it’s part of the job.

Find your next OTR route.

If you’re ready to get started on your next OTR route, you don’t have to wait. Check out the Truckstop Load Board to find your next OTR route.

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