What does a day in the life of an LTL truck driver look like?

Image of trucks lined up in a parking lot

A Day in the Life of an LTL Truck Driver

The truck driver is one of the unsung and often unnoticed pillars of our modern economy. Driving trucks can be a challenging job, with long hours, hard work, and unpredictable conditions. However, nearly all the products we rely on in our daily lives are handled and hauled by a truck driver at some point between production and purchase. There are a variety of different types of truck drivers on the road today, from long haulers to P&D drivers, to hazmat drivers, and even ice road truckers. Today we will be looking at one of the most logistically challenging jobs in the trucking market: less-than-truckload (LTL) drivers. LTL truckers are unique in that they are hauling a wide range of freight loads on their trailer at any given time, all bound for different final destinations. That means they are making a lot more pickups, deliveries, and terminal stops than most full truckload drivers, who mainly carry a single shipment from origin to destination. Let’s take a look at the average day for an LTL truck driver and understand some of the challenges they face on their daily routes.


Starting the day

LTL truck drivers typically get an early start to their day, arriving at the local carrier terminal in the morning and getting their trucks inspected, fueled, and prepped for the road. The night crew of warehouse personnel may have already loaded the trailer before the driver arrives, or they may finish doing so while the truck is getting ready. Once the truck is loaded with the pallets of different shipments, the driver receives their delivery and pickup schedule, gets the necessary paperwork, and plans their route.

Depending on the size of the truck and what products are being shipped, drivers may have 10-12 deliveries to make, each comprised of several shrink-wrapped pallets grouped together on the trailer. Pickup and delivery LTL drivers are usually responsible for a particular route or region in the area where they make deliveries, so they will often be delivering to many of the same businesses and locations every week.


Out for Deliveries

Once the trailer is loaded, and the route is determined, drivers head out from the terminal to make their deliveries. Depending on the type of location, drivers may need to ensure they have the proper equipment and delivery instructions for each load. Shippers are given a delivery window for when to expect the driver, so warehouse crews and consignees should be ready to receive the deliveries, inspect the shipment, and sign the proof of delivery. When the driver pulls into the dock, the shipment is unloaded, and the truck heads to the next stop on their route.

If a business is unable to receive its shipment, the driver will head to the next drop-off location without making the delivery. This can occur due to an issue getting the truck into the facility, warehouse teams not being ready, or a business being unexpectedly closed. It can also occur if an accessorial required to make the drop-off, like a liftgate, was not indicated on the paperwork, and the driver cannot make the delivery. In these cases, the driver will consider the stop a missed delivery, return to the terminal with the shipment, the customer will be charged a fee on their freight invoice, and the delivery will most often be scheduled for the following day.


Pickups for the Terminal

If all goes to plan, the driver will complete their deliveries for the day by midday. After lunch, barring any delays due to driver detention, weather, traffic, or road conditions, it’s time to make any scheduled pickups. LTL carriers will try and schedule pickups along similar delivery routes for drivers to save money on labor and fuel. A driver will typically have several pickups to make in the afternoon and evening that are scheduled in a way that minimizes having to go outside their regular delivery route.


Ending the Day

Once all the outgoing shipments have been picked up for the day, the driver returns to the terminal to drop off the freight, where it will be organized and consolidated into shipments bound for the next terminal. Warehouse workers “strip”, or unload, the truck and move the newly picked up shipments into the terminal. The LTL freight will then be inspected, weighed, and organized for its long-haul journey. Long-haul trucks will pick up these shipments and bring them to their destination cities or counties, where they will be unloaded in the local terminal and made ready for the delivery driver to pick them up and deliver them to their final destinations.

Whether they are long-haul or P&D drivers, LTL truckers deal with a lot of variables and challenges throughout their day. Because of the complexity of LTL freight, they must manage a variety of shipments, locations, and circumstances in order to pick up and deliver the products and materials we use every day. So, if you see a trucker out on the road, give them a friendly wave and let them know you appreciate them for doing what they do.

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