Large semi trucks are one of the mainstays of transportation in the US and around the world, and the men and women who drive these big trucks are considered icons in some cultures. Drivers operate 18-wheeler trucks, also called semis. They may be an independent, owning their own rigs, or work for a trucking company. The movie Smokey and the Bandit and the country/novelty song "Convoy" by C.W. McCall helped propel this profession into the public eye in the US.
A truck driver must first be trained to drive an 18-wheeler. Driving this kind of vehicle is totally different from driving a car, a pickup truck, or even a small delivery truck. A semi has air brakes, many gears in the transmission, and a thousand other differences from conventional vehicles. A driver must be trained in all the semi's systems and operations. He or she has to know what to do when going up or down a steep grade, so the brakes will not overheat, and how to keep a load from shifting on a curve, which means she also has to know how to load the semi trailer properly.
A driving school teaches a novice how to park an 18-wheeler, how to maneuver in traffic, and how to turn into narrow streets. The driver must learn different driving techniques, depending on where he or she is. A person drives the rig one way in Los Angeles and another way on the flat Kansas interstate.
When the truck breaks down, the driver must know some basic repair skills. He or she should know how to deal with the unique traits of a diesel engine and how to change a tire. The driver also has to know how to connect and disconnect the tractor (the cab) from the trailer.
A truck driver is expected to drive long hours, keeping track of them in the truck's logbook. He or she must get merchandise to its destination on time, load the truck, unload the truck, make sure the load matches the manifest sheet, and a hundred other small duties. In short, he or she is responsible for the vehicle's operation, efficiency, management, and safety, as well as for the load he or she carries.
While some companies pay their drivers well, many drivers do not make a salary commensurate with what is expected of them. The hours are long and lonely, and burnout is common. Trucks and their drivers are still the most common way to move consumer goods around the US.