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How to Drive a Semi

It takes talent and training to drive a semitrailer. See if you have what it takes to operate one of these rigs on the open road.


  • Step 1: Prepare for tests In order to drive a semi, you must get a commercial driver's license and pass a medical exam. Age requirements vary from state to state and can depend on whether you plan to drive intrastate or interstate.
  • TIP: People with epilepsy, diabetes that requires insulin shots, or certain heart conditions are not eligible to drive a big rig, though individuals can apply for a medical waiver from the ban.
  • Step 2: Take the tests Get your license by passing a general knowledge written test and a road test. If you want to transport hazardous material, drive a tanker, pull double or triple trailers, or engage in any other kind of specialty driving, you'll have to pass tests for those specific skills as well.
  • Step 3: Check your ride Do a pretrip inspection each time you hit the road, and a posttrip inspection at the end of each day. Check out the tires and wheels, brakes, steering, suspension, and the lights. Check the mirrors and double-check emergency equipment like spare tires and tire chains. Make sure the truck is not overloaded and the cargo is both balanced and secured.
  • Step 4: Learn to accelerate correctly Learn to accelerate correctly. If you're driving a manual transmission, master the fine art of double-clutching when shifting gears so that you gain speed gradually without jerking. Rough acceleration can cause mechanical damage.
  • Step 5: Steer with both hands Always have both hands on the steering wheel. If you don't, and you hit a curb or a pothole, you could lose control of the rig.
  • Step 6: Back up sparingly If you must back up, walk around the vehicle beforehand. Look for objects behind and above your truck that you may not clear when reversing. Then, put on your emergency flashers and back up slowly, using the lowest reverse gear and watching your side mirrors. Don't ride the clutch.
  • TIP: Whenever possible, back up and turn toward the driver's side, where you have greater visibility.
  • Step 7: Signal slowing ahead If traffic ahead is slowing down, tap your brake pedal a few times to warn drivers behind you, whose view you're blocking.
  • Step 8: Make the 'right' turn Signal well before you turn. If you can't make a right turn without moving into another lane, turn wide and keep the rear of your rig close to the curb. For a left turn, make sure you have reached the center of the intersection before you start your turn.
  • Step 9: Get enough sleep Don't forget the most important rule of the road: Never drive when you're sleepy. Eight-hour sleep breaks are not just suggested; they're mandatory.
  • FACT: Did you know? Nearly 5 percent of America's 3.5 million truck drivers are women, according to the 2008 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You Will Need

  • A commercial driver license manual or driving school
  • A commercial driver's license
  • Good health

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