OTR Truck Driving Careers

If you’re looking for a job that gives you independence and the chance to explore the open road, then over-the-road (OTR) trucking might be the right career path for you. But, like all work, OTR trucking has benefits and drawbacks.

Read on to learn about what OTR driving entails, including job duties, license requirements, and salary potential to help you better assess if this job is right for you.


What is OTR Trucking?

Also known as long-haul driving, OTR drivers transport heavy loads across long distances. Routes include the continental United States and may go into Canada and Mexico. Distance and time spent away from home vary by company, but OTR truckers often drive several hundred miles a day and are away from their home base for weeks at a time.

OTR drivers deliver many types of freight, including consumer goods, machinery, vehicles, animals, fuel, and construction materials.


What Do OTR Truck Drivers Do?

OTR drivers are responsible for hauling freight across the country or across regions, but their duties go beyond driving. They may track miles, perform safety checks, schedule truck maintenance, and handle paperwork like fuel receipts and trucking logs.

Truck driving isn’t for everyone. The job requires sitting for long hours and being away from home for weeks. But if you’re someone who values independence, has fewer domestic obligations, and enjoys traveling and meeting new people, this field of truck driving could be a good fit.


Do OTR Drivers Load and Unload Trucks?

Generally, OTR drivers aren’t expected to load and unload freight. Instead, designated teams are often at the pick-up and drop-off points to do this work. However, some companies may require OTR drivers to load and unload the hauls they deliver.


Licensing for OTR Drivers

OTR drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) class A. With this license, they can drive any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, including towed vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds.

A few examples of OTR trucks are tractor-trailers, truck and trailer combinations, tanker vehicles, flatbeds, and livestock carriers.


Common Endorsements for OTR Drivers

Drivers who earn endorsements can qualify to drive a wider range of loads. With endorsements, OTR drivers can diversify their loads, which could lead to more job opportunities.

The most common endorsements for OTR drivers to earn are:

  • HAZMAT (H): Drive vehicles transporting hazardous materials
  • Tanker (N): Operate tank vehicles containing liquids or gases
  • Double and triple trailer (T): Drive double and triple trailer trucks
  • Combination of H and N (X): Operate both tank vehicles and vehicles containing hazardous materials

You can train for your HAZMAT endorsement at Southwest Truck Driver Training (SWTDT) school.


How Long Are Over-the-Road Truckers Away From Home?

The amount of home time you get as an OTR driver versus being on the road varies by company. For example, some trucking fleets define OTR as one to two weeks on the road, while others have OTR drivers away from home for three to four weeks.

How many hours you spend on the road per day, though, is highly regulated. OTR drivers can’t be behind the wheel for longer than 11 hours. As a result, drivers often rest in their sleeper berth, part of the truck, at truck stops.


OTR Solo Driving vs. Team Driving

OTR drivers can work as solo drivers or pair up in teams. With team driving, drivers usually take turns, with one sleeping in the berth while the other drives. With one person always behind the wheel, OTR teams often drive more miles in a shorter period.

Solo driving gives you more solitude and independence, while team driving can help with loneliness and may come with greater earning potential.


OTR Driving for a Company vs. Owner-Operators

Many transportation companies hire OTR drivers, but some OTR drivers become owner-operators. As an owner-operator, you’re self-employed and run your own business, so you make the rules. For example, you can decide your schedule, the kind of loads you transport, and how much work you want to take on.

Owner-operators may have a higher income but incur more expenses like paying for the truck, the truck’s maintenance, and insurance. Company OTR drivers have fewer responsibilities, but their pay is limited to their employer’s structure.


Salary and Job Growth Opportunities in OTR Truck Driving

OTR drivers typically earn more than other types of truck drivers. Trucking companies usually pay drivers per mile, so longer routes can boost your income. You may also increase your earning potential if you have additional endorsements to transport specialized loads.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), OTR drivers earned a median annual wage of $48,310 in the U.S. as of May 2021. Salaries for OTR drivers range from the lowest 10% receiving $30,710 or less and the highest making $72,730 or more per year (BLS). Earning potential often depends on the company, the kind of freight hauled, location, miles driven, and the trucker’s safe driving experience. With bonus potential and other compensation, many companies recruiting for OTR drivers today will advertise earning potential of up to $100,000 per year.

Wages also vary based on location. For example, in Arizona, OTR drivers earn $47,600, on average, with the top 10% earning more than $66,830 annually. In Nevada, OTR drivers make $49,980 on average, with the same top percentile making $62,940 or more.


Southwest Truck Driver Training and OTR Driver Training

Southwest Truck Driver Training can provide you with the education needed to become an OTR driver. At our locations, you can train for your mandatory Class A CDL to become an OTR driver or prepare for your HAZMAT endorsement.