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CDL Driver Duties and Responsibilities

Based on our analysis of job listings, CDL drivers commonly complete the following duties:

Transport Goods and Materials The CDL driver's main responsibility is delivering goods and materials regionally or throughout the country using a tractor trailer. This requires excellent driving skills to safely operate and maneuver a large vehicle. It can also require a high level of physical and mental stamina if the CDL driver is driving a long route. Some CDL drivers also transport hazardous materials, which requires an even higher level of concentration and driver safety.

Plan Routes and Schedules CDL drivers often plan their own routes and driving schedules, particularly for long-haul trips. Most CDL drivers utilize GPS technology to outline routes and determine the number of miles they can cover in a day. They may also consider factors such as weight limits, hazardous materials regulations on roads and in tunnels, weather conditions, and traffic. CDL drivers may also need to make adjustments while driving.

Prepare and Retain Records Record keeping is another major component of the CDL driver's role. They need to accurately record pickups and drop-offs to ensure that their dispatcher has a record of successful deliveries and can quickly respond to delays. Additionally, CDL drivers who work long routes or operate as independent contractors need to record their mileage, tolls, and fuel consumption for reimbursement and to ensure that they are following federal guidelines for hours worked.

Maintain Vehicles Most CDL drivers are also responsible for inspecting and maintaining their vehicles, which can include regular maintenance, state inspections, and emergency repairs. CDL drivers report any accidents or delays related to mechanical issues to dispatchers. They also keep detailed logs of vehicle maintenance activities, inspections, and repairs to ensure that their trucks remain safe and legal to drive. Independent contractors need to pay for their own repairs.

Collaborate with Dispatchers CDL drivers frequently coordinate with dispatchers and other logistics personnel while completing their routes. This may involve sharing updates on delivery timelines or route conditions and logging breaks and miles driven. If a CDL driver completes a delivery and a pickup at the same location, they may need to update dispatchers to let them know that they have completed one delivery and are moving on to the next.


CDL Driver Skills and Qualifications

CDL drivers operate large and heavy vehicles, sometimes on long-haul routes, to deliver goods and materials. They need a CDL license and the following skills:
  • Driving skills - CDL drivers must be able to safely operate and maneuver large tractor-trailers. They need clean driving records and the ability to drive for hours at a time
  • Route planning - in this role, CDL drivers should be familiar with their routes and must be able to adjust planned drives to make up for lost time and manage delays while on the road
  • Reporting and documentation - CDL drivers also need to keep accurate records and documentation of hours worked, miles driven, and deliveries and pickups completed, especially if they are independent contractors
  • Experience with vehicle maintenance - knowledge of vehicle inspection and maintenance processes is also vital for CDL drivers, since they need to ensure that their trucks are safe and legal to drive before and during their routes
  • Time management - CDL drivers need to closely manage their time to make sure that their driving hours are within limits set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • Communication skills - CDL drivers also need to effectively communicate with dispatchers, logistics personnel, and team members at pickup and delivery locations

CDL Driver Education and Training

Generally, CDL drivers need at least a high school diploma or GED. Some also opt to attend truck driving schools to learn how to safely operate and maintain tractor-trailers, but this is not a requirement. This position also requires a clean driving record and a commercial driver's license, which is earned after passing a written examination and driving test.

CDL Driver Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earn a median yearly wage of $42,480. The highest-paid 10 percent of workers in this role earn more than $64,000, while the lowest paid make less than $27,510 per year. Salaries can depend on a variety of factors, including whether the driver is paid per mile, works as an independent contractor, or drives a set route within a smaller area. The BLS expects employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers to grow at an average rate of 6 percent through 2026.

Helpful Resources

We searched the web and found a number of resources if you'd like to learn more about working as a CDL driver:

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration - the FMCSA sets laws and guidelines for commercial vehicle operators, including hour limits and guidelines for breaks and daily mileage to ensure safe roads

CDL: Commercial Driver's License Exam - this book is designed to prepare test-takers for the commercial driver's license exam, and contains clear diagrams, examples, and practice questions

RouteXL - CDL drivers can use this online tool to help plan and optimize routes and learn about road closures and typical conditions before setting out on a long-haul delivery

Tractor-Trailer Truck Driver Training - CDL drivers can enhance their knowledge and skills with this book, which contains advanced materials related to safely operating a tractor-trailer

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