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Should You Start Your CDL Career as a Local Driver?

Written by John Daniels
June 01, 2022

Getting started in trucking is tough. It’s a difficult career, and one that is often misunderstood. Many people see promises of high weekly and yearly pay and flock to get their CDL without any research into what the industry expects of them.

Many drivers think they can skip going OTR and settle into a high paying local job right away, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, there are local jobs that’ll take you straight out of school, but as we’ll come to prove later in the post, these jobs are few and far between.

And even if you could land a local job without doing OTR, there are some reasons why that may not be the optimal choice. Even though OTR work seems tough, it can be some of the simplest work there is and can serve as a powerful learning period in the beginning of your trucking career.

Not all local jobs are easy

One of the most misunderstood aspects of trucking by people looking for the “perfect local gig” is that trucking is not a nine to five job.

Wanting to skip everything that makes trucking uncomfortable and settle into a local, home daily + weekends day shift is an intoxicating thought, but it’s not realistic.

Truck driving jobs in general are very demanding. You work long and uncomfortable hours, and the jobs that pay very well require experience, grit, and determination to get.

We asked our Facebook followers "Should you go OTR before going local?" and got some great responses. Here’s one of them:

“Driving local is a very stressful position, doing daily pickup and delivery is not for everyone. Different pickup or peddle routes are quite different from OTR, you have traffic conditions and time constraints that dictate the routes for each day, and each town or city and not all stops run smoothly. Some people adapt to it, some don't.” - William, CDL Driver

Oh, and this gem:

“I got more sleep running otr than I did running local” - Chris, CDL Driver

The grass isn’t always greener!

I’m choosing to highlight these comments because they’re some of the many talking about the difficulties of local work. It’s not as simple as clocking in and out and enjoying your home time. Of course, we also had plenty of positive comments regarding local work, but we’ll get to those a little bit later.

OTR can be less risky

In the beginning of your driving career, you’ll have no experience to fall back on. Choosing the right job for the right experience is important, and sometimes that means going OTR with a larger company.

Larger OTR companies usually have more robust training programs and get you set up to start your career with little risk. Going for a smaller local carrier usually means being under a much harsher insurance deal. The worse the deal a company has with their insurance provider, the less they’ll tolerate your mishaps - and you’re bound to have a few mishaps in the early stages of your career.

Most local jobs require experience

Because many local operations are smaller than the mega-carriers, they often have insurance deals that require drivers to have a few years of experience.

Here on Lanefinder, we (as of writing this post) have just about 2,000 local jobs hiring across the country. For the sake of supporting my argument, here's some data, neatly presented in infographic form:

local CDL statistics infographic

As you can see, only 10% of the jobs take new graduates. Those are some low odds of landing a local job straight out of school. And you can bet these aren’t the “dream” local jobs drivers work many years to get. These local jobs are great, but their conditions correspond to what you’d expect from rookie work.

Just over 75% of all local work needs one year verifiable experience, and 40% requires at least two years. That means to land most of the high quality local jobs, you need to get your experience elsewhere. Depending on which type of work you go for, some OTR experience can also be required.

Another driver on our Facebook had this to say:

"If you are driving a small van with bread, pastries, etc., making stops all over town, great. If you are pulling a 83' combination with lumber for local construction, concrete, gravel and sand, you may run into situations where past OTR experience would come in handy, especially with the flatbed. And if you had to make an occasional run out of town to another state, not being familiar with logs, axle weights, etc., which you must learn for OTR, can be costly.” - Jim, CDL Driver

Sometimes OTR experience can help prepare you for specialized local jobs. Getting that experience ahead of time can set you up for better opportunities.

You might appreciate local more if you’ve done OTR

If you’re one to believe in earning your freedom, this could be a good argument. Maybe you’ll just love working locally once you’ve had some time to appreciate the OTR side of things. Maybe you’ll get the experience needed to pick a local job that you can thrive at. Just a thought.

“Yes! I don't think I would appreciate running local as much if I hadn't put in 15 years of OTR!! I've often thought about that and someone finally posed the question!” - Jim K, CDL Driver

Jim didn’t exactly give us more insight into why, but we’ll take his word for it.

At the end of the day, the choice is yours

It feels like a bit of a cop out to wrap up a blog this way, but hey… it’s your life! Even though going OTR first might be the easier and smarter option, there really are no hard rules. Consistency and longevity within the industry outweigh which jobs you choose to do in the beginning of your career.

What this country needs are drivers that are committed, that stick around, and those that actually keep the country running! It’s tough out there, and drivers burn out all the time. If you’re one of the few that can keep going and find joy and love in the profession, then you’ve already won.

“I never did (run OTR). 4 million miles in SC, NC, and GA. Loved it. Then Jimmy Carter deregulated the industry… ” - Roy, Ex CDL Driver

We feel ya, Roy. You show them!

Unbreaking Trucking

Inspiring insights for the ambitious driver.

Being able to overcome the challenges of the trucking industry is the key to your professional well-being as a CDL driver.

Staying on top of your game will help you make smarter choices, land better jobs, and have a clearer picture of where your career is heading.

We’re here to help you do just that.

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