Tons of Hazmat materials are produced daily, and they need to be safely handled and transported to keep our roads and communities safe.
We all depend on Hazmat drivers that move hazardous materials requiring special care safely from point A to point B. These drivers are paid a premium because of the special training they undergo, and the many regulations they must comply with.
If you are a seasoned trucker or you are considering truck driving as a career, making as much money as possible is likely to be one of your key goals.
Hazmat truck driving is one of the highest-paying and secure jobs in the trucking industry.
So, how can you become a hazmat truck driver?
In this article, you will learn what makes a hazmat driver, how to become a hazmat driver, and how much you can earn as a hazmat truck driver.
What Is a Hazmat Truck Driver?
A hazmat driver is a professional truck driver who is legally endorsed and trained to handle, haul, and deliver toxic items.
Safety is always important for truck drivers, but it is even more so for hazmat truck drivers. Hazmat drivers must painstakingly follow safety regulations and ply routes that are planned to avoid cities, tunnels, and other restricted areas.
Specialized training is not just best practice for hazmat drivers, it is required by law. Chapter 51 of Title 49 of the U.S Code stipulates the training requirements for hazmat employees.
What Types of Materials Do Hazmat Drivers Transport?
Hazmat drivers transport a variety of toxic materials including radioactive substances, pesticides, propane, ammunition, battery acid, and so on.
According to the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM), any item or substance that can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment by itself or by interacting with other items, is a hazardous material.
The federal government divides hazardous materials into nine classes including:
- Explosive materials – ammunition, fireworks;
- Gases – propane, helium;
- Flammable and combustible liquids – gasoline, diesel fuel, acetone, ethanol;
- Flammable solids – fuses, matches;
- Oxidizers and organic peroxides – ammonium;
- Toxic materials and infectious substances – poisons, pesticides;
- Radioactive materials – uranium, plutonium;
- Corrosive materials – battery acid;
- Miscellaneous dangerous goods – asbestos;
All the materials listed above require a hazmat endorsement to haul.
Why Should You Become a Hazmat Driver?
There are many benefits to becoming a hazmat truck driver, and some of them are:
There has been a shortage of drivers in the trucking industry for the past few years, and that shortage is even more acute among hazmat drivers.
As truck drivers retire, fewer drivers are filling up the positions. Companies that ship hazardous materials require drivers to have hazmat certifications, and the stringent regulatory requirements mean not every driver is able to obtain hazmat endorsement.
If you work to secure your hazmat endorsement, you will have your pick of jobs.
Also, it’s just the old positions that need to be filled, demand is also growing. The Bureau of Labour Statistics expects the demand for hazmat workers to grow by 8% between 2019 to 2029.
A few factors are driving this growing demand including:
- The exponential increase in waste recycling
- The regulatory requirement for companies to clean up toxic substances at sites recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- The cleanup of nuclear plants that are been decommissioned
With the high rate of employee attrition in the industry, and the high, and growing demand for hazmat drivers, hazmat trucking is a viable career choice for seasoned drivers and newbies.
Truckers can carve a career path that promises good wages without having to incur student loan debts that come with a college degree. Hazmat truckers have it better, the shortage of drivers, and the specialty training requirements mean they earn way more than the average trucker.
The average annual salary of a hazmat driver in the U.S. is $63,000, and this can go as high as $139,000 if you are an owner-operator.
Taking and passing the hazmat test, and getting a hazmat endorsement on your CDL license will help you stand out among your peers.
You will be marketable, and the company you work for or any potential employer will see you as a valuable, and adaptable employee.
Whenever the company needs a driver to haul hazardous materials, they know you are up to take up the task.
How to Become a Hazmat Truck Driver
There are already standard regulations and licensing requirements that truckers must follow due to the size and difficulty of maneuver of trucks. Hazmat truckers must comply with these regulations while also following the specific requirements for getting a hazmat endorsement.
To become a hazmat certified trucker, here are the steps you need to take:
Step 1: Get Your CDL License
You must get your CDL license before you can apply to become a hazmat trucker. The license gives you the legal right to drive large vehicles including semi-trucks, passenger busses. Tractor-trailer truck, and so on.
There are three CDL classes – A, B, and C. Hazmat drivers must get the CDL class A license.
The requirements for getting a CDL license varies from state to state, but generally, the process looks like this:
- Take and pass a knowledge test: every new driver must take and pass a knowledge exam that evaluates your familiarity with relevant regulations and the type of vehicle you plan to drive. Check out your local DMV for your state’s CDL manual, and familiarise yourself with the applicable regulations in your state.
- Get your learner’s permit and go through your learning period: after passing your knowledge test, you will be given a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). This permit is subject to other qualifications including providing proof of identification, being medically fit, having a suitable driving record, and paying the CLP fee. Your permit allows you to practice truck driving while a CDL holder trucker accompanies you.
- Take and pass a skills test: the final step is to take and pass a driving skills test at a DMV location or a certified training center. You will also take a basic controls test and a vehicle inspection test. If you pass all the tests, you will be given your CDL license.
You should try to find a reputable, accredited trucking school to prepare you for your CDL test. A good school will:
- Have lots of positive online reviews and be rated by reputable business rating services
- Have an online presence with a website that provides detailed information about the school’s program
- Will meet state curriculum and training requirements and be accredited
- Provide full training including class training and road training
- Will promise additional training if you don’t pass the exam on your first try
- Will be able to assist you in landing a trucking job after you pass the tests and obtain your CDL license
Take your time and do proper research to find the right CDL training school for you in your state.
Step 2: Get Your Hazmat Certification
Hauling hazardous materials is a lot more dangerous than standard trucking, and that’s why hazmat truckers must satisfy additional requirements.
You can apply for your hazmat certification at the DMV, any TSA center, or online. The fee is typically around $90 and you must meet the following requirements before you can apply:
- You must be at least 21 years of age
- You must provide proof of citizenship or legal residence
- You must not have any disqualifying prior criminal convictions
- You must have a valid CDL license
- You must pass medical/eye exams
- You must complete a TSA background check
If you apply online, you still need to schedule a visit at the application center to provide your fingerprint for the background check, and present other required documents.
After your application, TSA will carry out an extensive background check that can take up to 60 days. The check is primarily a criminal background check, and the following prior criminal convictions will permanently ban you from being eligible for hazmat endorsement:
- Improper transportation of toxic substances
- Unlawful possession or use of explosives
- Threatening to use explosives in public
- Violation of the RICO act
- Conspiracy to commit any of the offenses listed above
If you are indicted for a felony, wanted, or under warrant, your application will not succeed until you have been cleared.
An ex-convict can still obtain a hazmat certification, provided the individual was not convicted of any of the offenses listed above and other offenses that are blacklisted by the TSA.
You can appeal within 60 days if your application is rejected. The rejection of your application does not revoke your CDL license, and you can continue to work as a commercial trucker.
If your application is successful, you will take the hazmat knowledge test. The test varies from state to state, but in general, the test evaluates your knowledge of federal and state guidelines on hauling hazardous materials.
You can prepare for the test by reading up on the hazmat section of your state’s CDL manual and by taking an online CDL hazmat practice test.
After passing the test, you will get your hazmat endorsement, which will be marked on your CDL license.
There are three types of hazmat endorsements you can get, including:
- (H) Hazardous materials endorsement: this endorses you as a hazmat truck driver, and you will it is required of all hazmat truckers.
- (N) Tank vehicle endorsement: this gives you the right to drive tanker vehicles that are used to transport hazardous liquids or liquefied gases. Most hazardous materials are transported using tankers, and this is one endorsement you should get.
- (X) Tanker/hazmat combo endorsement: this combines the H and N endorsements, and you get the endorsement you need to both transport hazardous materials and drive a tanker.
You can get the H and N endorsements, or get the X endorsement. Companies prefer the X endorsement since it gives you the certification to transport any type of hazardous substance.
The hazmat certification will remain valid for five years, after which you must go through the background check process again. Some states will require that you retake the hazmat test anytime you renew your CDL license.
You will get a notification from the TSA about 90 days before your current hazmat background check expires.
What are Your Employment Options as a Hazmat Driver?
After getting your hazmat endorsement, you have two options:
- Work for a company as a hazmat driver: or,
- Work as a hazmat owner-operator trucker.
As an operator, you get to drive the type of truck you like, choose your own routes, and earn up to $92,000 per year.
However, an owner-operator must fund the purchase of a truck, work to find loads, and take on the expenses of truck maintenance.
Hazmat drivers that work for companies are guaranteed consistent loads and pay, but they also generally earn less than owner-operators.
Hazmat hauling companies tend to have strict requirements for new hires, and most companies require:
- At least three years of accident-free truck driving
- A high school diploma or GED
- General first-aid certification
- Prior hazmat handling experience
The following industries account for the majority of hazmat driver jobs:
- Chemical manufacturing
- Petroleum processing
- Primary metal production
- Metal fabrication
These industries have an ongoing need for hazmat truckers, and the truck driver shortage means you are likely to get your pick of jobs.
How Dangerous Is Hazmat Haulage?
The harmful nature of hazmat materials is why requirements are so stringent, and safety standards are so high. Any incident, depending on the toxic substance being transported, can have deadly consequences.
There were 155,000 accidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials in the 10 years period between 2011 to 2020. Those accidents cost 93 lives and 1,333 people were injured.
Road collisions are not the only way a hazmat driver can face potential harm, other dangers include:
- Chemical burns from corrosive materials
- Exposure to radioactive substances
- Explosion of volatile materials
- Fire from flammable materials
These risks may discourage some drivers from becoming hazmat truckers. However, if you are someone that can adhere meticulously to safety protocols, master route planning, and respect security practices, hazmat trucking can be a very rewarding profession for you.
Becoming a hazmat truck driver takes skill, studying, patience, and careful driving. Following the instructions in this article will guide you through the entire process, and you will be able to tap into the many opportunities available to hazmat drivers in no time.