Becoming a Flatbed Truck Operator
By Brian Dalton
To someone unaware of the vast differences in various truck driving jobs, a flatbed would seem to be just another truck. However, flatbed trucks and its drivers is a unique breed. The occupation of a flatbed driver requires heavy lifting and an increased risk than other forms of the trucking industry. In order to pursue a flatbed career, one needs to earn a Commercial Driver License with the appropriate classifications. Flatbed truckers usually hold a CDL in Class A or B. However, one can also hold a Class C CDL, as long as the endorsement or restriction is T, for trailer.
In order to earn a CDL, you must locate a commercial driving instructor. There are many CDL training school's to choose from. However, make sure that the school you choose offers job placement assistance and has a low instructor to student ratio. That way, more drive time experience can be obtained under supervision, making for a better educational experience. It's also worth noting that many commercial trucking companies offer training to hire opportunities.
To begin, one must become very apt at covering or placing tarp over one's freight. If cargo is weather sensitive, it requires covering. For those not familiar with utilizing tarps, you'll soon learn it's not an easy task. These covers are often very large and can weigh nearly 100 pounds. Due to the sheer size, covering your freight with a tarp is usually not a quick process. Therefore, depending on the weather, you could be getting drenched, freezing, or sweating to death as you take the time to cover the flatbed. If one thinks becoming a flatbed truck driver is their calling, realize that working with a tarp is going to be one of your greatest challenges.
In addition, flatbed truck drivers are notorious for getting hurt far more often than other truck drivers; back and shoulder injuries are the most common. The reason is quite simple; take a look at the previous paragraph. Working with a tarp is difficult, and can be hard on one's body depending on its size and weight. Another danger lies in the design of the truck's trailer. It's usually comprised of wood and aluminum. Aluminum gets slippery resulting in drivers (usually trying to lift or move something on the bed) slipping and falling on or off the trailer completely.
Another challenge that flatbed trucking presents is weight loads. As the driver, you must be aware of each state's regulations with regards to these loads. Timing is another issue. Large loads cannot be transported in the evening or in negative weather conditions (as many states have this rule in their bylaws.) Depending on the freight's size, you may even need an escort vehicle to travel along. Usually, the company you're driving for will take care of the necessary paperwork for such needs, but it's still another challenge in the unique life of a flatbed truck driver.
Another virtue that a flatbed truck driver will need is patience. Without a doubt, not only will you be stopping at every single weigh station; but you can count on your freight being scrutinized under very watchful eyes. Make sure to have all of your paperwork (i.e. permits) organized and ready to be shown, as well. If you do not meet the requirements (i.e. freight weight, paperwork, etc.), your trip will be shut down until the discrepant requirements are met and satisfied.
As an operator of a flatbed truck, the Department of Transportation can and will be an issue. There are a staggering amount of rules and regulations regarding a flatbed such as:
c. Breakup of load
d. Proper strapping
e. Tarp procedure
Flatbeds are under the watchful eye of the Department of Transportation, because these trucks provide so many opportunities to find a problem. Two of the more common issues that the DOT will come upon are damaged or loose fitting straps; and tarps not being properly secured. The bottom line is as a flatbed truck operator, be prepared to be critiqued often.
In the end, is it all worth it? Well, that depends on the individual and one's goals. If money is the ultimate goal, then "yes", it may be worth one's while. In fact, flatbed truckers can earn almost $20,000 more per year than some other forms of trucking.