General Education

How to Become an Owner-Operator Truck Driver

General EducationDecember 01, 2023

How to Become an Owner-Operator Truck Driver

Individuals looking for a career with stability, the opportunity to travel, and the chance to be their own boss may find commercial truck driving is a good option. Consumer and business spending continues to increase, so commercial truck drivers are needed to carry and deliver goods. 

As the owner of a trucking company, individuals need to be self-motivated, safety oriented, and detail oriented, and have a firm understanding of how to drive and repair a truck. Aside from driving, they have to follow local and state regulations, obey traffic laws, and oversee business concerns such as insurance, marketing, and maintenance. 

This career has specific requirements for safety, health, and licensure, but for those who enjoy driving and want to own a trucking company, it may be worthwhile to complete the steps. Interested individuals should read on to learn how to become an owner-operator truck driver. One major educational requirement is completing a commercial driving program before obtaining a license and gaining some road experience. 

What Does an Owner-Operator Truck Driver Do?

An owner-operator truck driver oversees their own commercial trucking company, but they also perform many of the same duties as regular truck drivers. They transport goods from one location to another on local, regional, or long-haul routes, sometimes securing the items with chains, ropes, and blocks. Drivers who transport hazardous materials, such as chemical waste, have to carry specialized safety equipment in case an accident occurs. 

Truck owners are responsible for inspecting their trucks and recording any defects, conducting regular repairs and cleanings, and keeping current maintenance records. They must follow state and federal transportation regulations by keeping a detailed travel log of their trips. Drivers also need to abide by local traffic laws.

Truck owner-operators are also responsible for overseeing business-related functions, including customer service, contract management, and financial management (e.g., bookkeeping and paying taxes).

Skills Needed for Owner-Operator Trucking 

Specific skills and qualities are required in the owner-operator trucking field. Individuals should examine their skill level before enrolling in commercial driving school.

  • Physical health: Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and epilepsy will disqualify individuals from long-haul trucking jobs. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a full list of disqualifying medical conditions to review.
  • Hand-eye coordination: Commercial truck drivers must use their arms, legs, and eyes simultaneously to operate the truck and remain aware of their surroundings.
  • Visual and hearing ability: Keen hearing and sight are federal requirements for commercial drivers. At least 20/40 vision is required in each eye, with or without eyeglasses or contact lenses, along with a 70-degree field of vision. Drivers must also be able to detect a whisper at least five feet away in one ear, whether they’re using a hearing aid or not.
  • Navigational and automotive knowledge: Since driving is the primary responsibility in this role, owner-operators should have fundamental knowledge of how their vehicles work and how to repair them. They should also be proficient in reading GPS maps and planning routes.

Steps to Become an Owner-Operator Truck Driver<

Before they can have an owner-operator trucking business, individuals must take some distinct, legally required initial steps:

1. Earn a High School Diploma, and Obtain a Driver’s License

For those who want to know how to become an owner-operator truck driver, it begins by earning a high school diploma and obtaining a noncommercial driver’s license. This is typically the minimum education required to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). However, individuals should confirm eligibility with their local licensing bureau, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

2. Complete Commercial Trucking School

Commercial driving schools teach students how to successfully operate tractor-trailers ranging in gross weight from 26,001 to 80,000 pounds. These programs combine classroom and on-the-road training to prepare individuals to qualify for a CDL and for entry-level truck driving positions. Students are trained on automatic and manual transmissions. The length of these programs varies by school, but they often can be completed in as little as six months. 

3. Choose a Commercial Driver’s License Class

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are required to have a commercial driver’s license. Depending on the state, the minimum age to get a CDL is either 18 or 21 years old. This age range also relates to whether the driver will be doing intrastate or interstate driving. Individuals need to choose whether to pursue a Class A, B, or C CDL. This choice depends on the individual's career goals, interests, and physical abilities. 

A Class A CDL allows an individual to operate combination trucks that have a maximum gross weight exceeding 26,000 pounds. These are the largest and heaviest commercial trucks, with two or more axles, also known as big rigs, tractor-trailers, and semi trucks. A Class B CDL allows an individual to operate single vehicles exceeding 26,000 pounds, such as school buses, garbage trucks, delivery trucks, and dump trucks. A Class C CDL allows an individual to operate single commercial vehicles of less than 26,000 pounds that transport passengers or hazardous materials.

4. Obtain a Commercial Driver’s License

Individuals need to obtain their CDL through the Department of Motor Vehicles in their home state. To qualify for a CDL, candidates need to have a clean driving record, pass drug and background tests, have a high school diploma, hold a valid noncommercial driver’s license, and show proof of residency. Prospective drivers also need to pass a physical exam, a written test, and a road skills test. 

Drivers who want to operate specialized trucks, like those containing hazardous materials or with triple trailers, will also need an endorsement. An endorsement is an additional certification that permits them to operate the truck. Prospective specialized commercial operators will have to pass a background check and complete a separate written exam. Individuals should check with their state to confirm the requirements. 

To maintain their CDL, commercial truck drivers need to pass a physical exam every two years and maintain a clean driving record. It’s not uncommon for truck drivers to be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol by federal authorities.

5. Gain Work Experience

Before starting an owner-operator trucking business, program graduates should gain on-the-job experience. Graduates typically find employment at a trucking company. Initial training is completed with a mentor-driver in the passenger seat to provide guidance. The length of the training varies, but it’s an opportunity to gain supervised experience driving a truck in many types of conditions and facing a range of on-the-road situations. 

6. Establish a Business

Once a commercial driver has established strong driving and administrative skills, they can move toward starting their own business. This process typically involves establishing a business entity with the secretary of state, filing for a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number, and getting a motor carrier (MC) number to gain operating authority. Owner-operators also purchase or lease their own truck, and must obtain truck insurance. Once these steps are completed, they will establish their administrative systems and begin looking for clients. 

Job Outlook for Owner-Operator Truck Drivers 

Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer commercial truck drivers is projected to grow 4% between 2022 and 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The need for truck drivers is projected to increase due to the buying habits of businesses and consumers. Job openings over the decade are also the result of driver retirements and the shift of drivers to other professions. 

Earn Your CDL With Fortis’ Commercial Driving Program 

The commercial trucking industry is on the rise, and entry into this field is possible in as little as six months. If you want to learn how to become an owner-operator truck driver, Fortis’ commercial truck driving program is a great way to gain fundamental truck driving skills and prepare to qualify for a commercial driver’s license. The advanced tractor-trailer driving diploma program — offered at the Fortis Institute campus in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania — focuses on safety procedures, laws, policies, and mechanics. 

Find out how to get started on the path toward owning and operating a trucking business with Fortis’ commercial driving program.

Recommended Readings

How Women Are Shaping the Future of Truck Driving
What Types of Jobs Can I Get With a Class A CDL?
Take Your Trucking Career to the Next Level: Six Endorsements to Consider

American Trucking Associations, Economics and Industry Data
DAT Solutions, “How to Become a Commercial Truck Driver”
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Commercial Driver's License Program
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Getting Started with Registration 
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Medical Conditions
Indeed, “How to Become a Truck Driver”
Indeed, “5 Key Differences Between CDL vs. Non-CDL Driver's Licenses”
Truckstop, 15 Steps to Become a Successful Owner-Operator
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers
U.S. Census Bureau, “America Keeps on Truckin’”