How to drive a tractor unit: 12 steps (with pictures)

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How to drive a tractor unit: 12 steps (with pictures)
How to drive a tractor unit: 12 steps (with pictures)

Driving a tractor unit is a good way to make a decent living for someone. The salary is motivating and the job itself offers a lot of freedom and flexibility. Before starting, you must obtain your professional title of driver of road transport. After you pass the regulatory tests, you can practice for a company or as a self-employed worker.


Part 1 of 3: preparing for the driver's license

Drive a Semi Truck Step 1
Drive a Semi Truck Step 1

Step 1. Learn how to start a tractor unit

First, you need to turn the ignition key up a notch to reset the gauges and power the glow plugs, but you will learn more about this operation by attending a heavy vehicle driving school.

Drive a Semi Truck Step 2
Drive a Semi Truck Step 2

Step 2. Learn how to change gears on a tractor unit

While driving this type of vehicle, you will have to change gears more frequently than when driving an automatic transmission car. Each tractor unit has its own characteristics, so you must learn how to change gears on the one you are going to be driving.

Drive a Semi Truck Step 3
Drive a Semi Truck Step 3

Step 3. Learn how to make turns and how to park your vehicle

While driving such a large vehicle, you need to be skillful, especially in making right or left turns, backing up and parking. Again, proper training is very important to properly maneuver and park the semi-trailer you plan to drive.

Part 2 of 3: Register at a training center to drive heavy vehicles

Drive a Semi Truck Step 4
Drive a Semi Truck Step 4

Step 1. Find a driving school that offers heavy vehicle license training

Check with the local driver's license department or check their website for a list of approved training centers that operate near your home. Choose a training program that conforms to the official program approved by the relevant body, for example the Institute of Professional Truckers (PDTI) if you are in the United States. Attending a training center is the best way to learn how to drive a tractor unit correctly.

  • Also remember to contact vocational schools for training leading to obtaining a professional driver's license.
  • Some training centers only offer a few approved driving courses. So, refine your research before signing up.
Drive a Semi Truck Step 5
Drive a Semi Truck Step 5

Step 2. Register for a training course

Heavy vehicle driving license training centers prepare for exams leading to “C” or “D” (European Union) or “A” or “B” (United States) driving licenses. If you are looking to become a truck driver, be aware that you must undergo training of around 350 hours, which is spread over several months.

  • You can opt for shorter trainings, but these trainings are only suitable for experienced people who only need a refresher course.
  • The cost of this training varies from country to country. In the United States, it is US $ 4,200 (€ 3,400) on average and in France, it is around € 2,500.
Drive a Semi Truck Step 6
Drive a Semi Truck Step 6

Step 3. Take advantage of your training to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge

This is because you will learn how to inspect an articulated vehicle to verify that it can be driven safely. You will also know how to drive such a vehicle and handle real life situations. The skills you will learn include:

  • take controlled turns without endangering other road users
  • change speed
  • drive in a lane or change lanes
  • adjust vehicle speed on the highway
  • driving in traffic jams
  • easily bypass obstacles on the road
  • driving in urban areas and on narrow streets
  • reverse with the semi-trailer
  • park the semi-trailer
Drive a Semi Truck Step 7
Drive a Semi Truck Step 7

Step 4. Learn how to drive a tractor unit

In addition to the actual training, you will learn to be more responsible. Here are some examples of specific knowledge you need to learn to pass your professional driver's license:

  • keep a logbook to record the events of your trip
  • know and comply with the relevant requirements of the Ministère des Transports
  • know the rules for the transport of dangerous goods
  • master the use of pneumatic brakes
  • study other practical lessons

Part 3 of 3: Pass the Driver's License Exam

Drive a Semi Truck Step 8
Drive a Semi Truck Step 8

Step 1. Meet the conditions for physical fitness

Obtaining your professional driver's license is subject to compliance with certain conditions of physical ability. First, there is the age requirement which varies from country to country. Generally speaking, you must be over 21 to be able to drive a semi-trailer for commercial purposes. Some countries like the United States issue a restricted license if the driver's age is 18 years old. In addition, you must undergo a conclusive medical examination. If you reside in the United States, you must obtain a medical card in order to apply for your exam. In France, you must attach a medical opinion to your application file.

Drive a Semi Truck Step 9
Drive a Semi Truck Step 9

Step 2. Take the theory test

To obtain a professional driver's license, you must pass a series of theoretical tests. These tests depend on the type of vehicle you wish to drive and the nature of the cargo.

  • The general knowledge test is generally taken by all candidates, regardless of the type of vehicle they intend to drive.
  • If you wish to drive a vehicle equipped with a pneumatic brake system, you must pass a test which deals with the use of this type of brake.
  • If you want to drive an articulated vehicle, you must undergo an assembly coupling and uncoupling test.
  • To be able to transport dangerous goods, you must pass a test on the conditions of road transport of dangerous goods.
  • In order to drive a tank vehicle, you must pass a test on tank transport.
  • To drive a road train made up of two or three trailers, you must pass a test relating to driving this type of articulated vehicle.
Drive a Semi Truck Step 10
Drive a Semi Truck Step 10

Step 3. Apply for a learner's license

After the theoretical test, you will have a license valid for 6 months, similar to the one you had before obtaining the final license to drive a car. This license will be used to prepare you for the practical tests of the exam, but you will only be able to drive if you are accompanied by an instructor holding a professional driver's license. To obtain this permit, you must justify the following conditions:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • hold a valid driver's license
  • pass the theoretical tests
  • present a medical card or a favorable medical opinion
Drive a Semi Truck Step 11
Drive a Semi Truck Step 11

Step 4. Take the practical tests

After you pass the theoretical tests, you can take the practical tests. Be aware that the result will depend on the hours of driving you have done during your training. In some cases, you can hire the semi-trailer from your training center to take these tests. The main tests focus on the skills listed below, in addition to the specific skills that correspond to the type of vehicle you wish to drive.

  • The pre-trip inspection: this is a set of regulatory tests to determine your ability to check whether the condition of your vehicle allows you to take the road safely. You will carry out the necessary checks in front of an examiner.
  • Controlling and driving the vehicle: to pass this test, you will climb into the cabin and, under the supervision of an examiner, carry out the maneuvers and checks required. You will be asked to drive forward, reverse, take turns without leaving your lane or knocking over traffic cones or touching obstacles.
  • Driving on the road: in this test, the examiner will invite you to take your vehicle on the road. The situations will be varied, as you will be making turns, crossing railway crossings, changing gears by slowing down or accelerating, and driving in an urban area or on the highway.
Drive a Semi Truck Step 12
Drive a Semi Truck Step 12

Step 5. Look for a job that matches your license

When you have your professional license, you can apply for a job with road transport companies or work as a self-employed person. If you want to expand the range of vehicles you can drive, you will need to take additional training.


  • Make use of all the space you have available.
  • Watch the back of the trailer by looking at your inside rearview mirror to make sure you don't risk hitting the curb.
  • Keep an eye on the area you are riding, front, back and sides.
  • Use common sense and drive more carefully than usual.
  • Be as careful with a tractor-trailer as you are with a firearm.


  • During the journey, pay attention to the possible unbinding of the cargo.
  • Never exceed the authorized speed limit on a bend.

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