The brown-clad United Parcel Service workers deliver more than 24 million packages a day to more than 220 countries and territories around the world; they even deliver to the North Pole. But what’s it really like to be a UPS driver? Here are some little-known facts from drivers who did their time.
1. They’re always being watched.
UPS knows time is money, and it is obsessed with using data to increase productivity. Jack Levis, UPS's director of process management, told NPR in 2014 that “one minute per driver per day over the course of a year adds up to $14.5 million,” and “one minute of idle per driver per day is worth $500,000 of fuel at the end of the year.” The hand-held computer drivers carry around, called a DIAD (short for Delivery Information Acquisition Device), tracks their every move. Ever wondered why your UPS person can’t stick around to hear your life story? He probably has between 150 and 200 stops to make before the end of the day, and they’re being timed. “You’re trained to have a sense of urgency,” Wendy Widmann, who drove for 14 years, told Mental Floss in 2015. “Be polite, but you gotta go.” Sensors inside the truck monitor everything from whether the driver’s seat belt is buckled to how hard they’re braking, and if the truck’s doors are open or closed. All this data is compiled for UPS analysts who use it to come up with time-saving tactics.
2. UPS drivers go to bootcamp.
All drivers must attend and graduate from a specialized training class called “Integrad,” which teaches them everything they need to know out in the field. They learn how to handle heavy boxes, which are filled with cinder blocks to simulate real packages. They’re taught how to start the truck with one hand while buckling up with the other to save time. And the “slip and fall simulator” teaches them to walk safely in slick conditions. There’s even a miniature delivery route complete with tiny houses “where they will drive in their truck and make simulated deliveries at houses,” UPS representative Dan Cardillo told Mental Floss in 2015.
3. Driving in reverse is discouraged.
Except for backing into a loading dock, “we generally will tell them the first rule of backing up is to avoid it,” Cardillo said. The way UPS sees it, backing up increases the likelihood a driver will unintentionally bump into something (or someone). In 2014, UPS driver Bill Earle told NPR he rarely goes a single day without being told he’s backing up too often or too quickly.
4. Good UPS drivers get rewarded ...
When a driver goes five years without an accident, they get to choose an item from retail stores’ catalogs. “The more years of safe driving you had, the better the gifts got,” Kevin Dyer, a former driver who spent 38 years behind the wheel, told Mental Floss in 2015. “One of the first few years I got a highway safety kit. It had everything in there: flares, booster cables, flashlight, tape, you name it. I got a set of golf clubs one year. I wore them out.” One “avoidable” accident bumps you back to zero. “I went seven years and then I backed into a small tree,” Widmann said. “Then I had to start from the beginning again. I was just getting to the good gifts like bikes and gas grills.”
5. ... And great UPS drivers get a bomber jacket.
A driver who goes 25 years without an accident is inducted into the UPS “Circle of Honor” and receives a special patch and a bomber jacket.
6. The UPS trucks are “big brown microwaves.”
In 2023, UPS finally agreed to install air conditioning in its vehicles. According to the agreement, the technology will be included in every small package delivery vehicle the company buys after January 1, 2024. Without air conditioning, the vehicles get so dangerously hot that drivers have to run their routes with the doors open to stay cool. “It is cold in winter and hot in the summer,” Widmann said. “It was wonderful to have 50 and 60 degree days.”
7. The delivery vehicles are not trucks.
At UPS, they’re referred to exclusively as “package cars.”
8. UPS drivers have to supply their own music.
UPS “package cars” don’t come with radios, so if you want to listen to music, you have to pack your own player.
9. Dog bites are part of the job.
“Most UPS drivers are attacked by dogs,” one former New Orleans-based UPS driver told Mental Floss in 2015. “What you do is jump on the hood of the nearest vehicle and don’t move. There were some drivers that sat on the hood of a car for an hour or more.” Of course, UPS doesn’t train its drivers to jump on top of cars to avoid dogs, but it does tell them to shout “UPS!” before entering the property so dogs won’t be caught off guard. Their handheld devices can also keep track of houses that might have dangerous dogs on the property and warn drivers ahead of time. “We wanna protect our drivers,” Cardillo said.
10. UPS drivers wish you’d meet them halfway.
Want to make your UPS driver’s job easier? In a 2012 Reddit thread, one driver said, “if you see them pulling up and you aren’t in the middle of something, meet them half way, or walk up to their truck.” Every extra step adds a little bit of time to their day. “If 10 of my 150 stops do that in a day I would get home 10–15 minutes earlier and actually get to spend time with my family,” the Reddit comment continued.
11. Facial hair used to be frowned upon.
UPS used to be super strict about facial hair. Beards were not allowed, and mustaches were permitted—as long as they didn’t grow below the corners of the mouth. And men's hair couldn’t touch the top of the collar. In 2020, UPS relaxed its rules. Now, workers can sport beards, longer hair, and natural Black hairstyles.
12. UPS drivers can make good money ...
On average, drivers who have been at the company for at least four years are paid $42 an hour, according to UPS. At the end of his 38-year tenure, Dyer said he was making more than $75,000 a year.
As of July 2023, the Teamsters union is pushing for a pay increase, in addition to an improved wage system and better working conditions and safety measures; the union has voted to authorize a strike if a new contract is not ratified by the time the existing one expires on July 31.
13. ... And they can get decent tips.
Some drivers get cash, especially around the holidays. Wayne Turner, a former driver in California was once greeted at the door by a butler who gave him and his partner each $50. “It was the strangest thing, but we made an extra $50 that day,” he told Mental Floss in 2015. But more frequently, drivers get non-monetary tips like wine and food. Occasionally, they’ll get random (but valuable!) stuff: “I had a place that made permanent air filters that you can rinse out,” Turner said. “They gave me those any time I needed one. Those were selling at the time for $65 or $75. A construction company gave me a piece of 16-foot wood that would have cost hundreds of dollars.”
14. Seniority means better routes.
More tenured drivers get the privilege of bidding for the routes they want. The best routes, employees say, cover lots of ground but have few stops. So rural routes are often run by employees who have done their time.
15. UPS drivers don’t turn left.
By obsessively tracking its drivers (see #1), UPS found that “a significant cause of idling time resulted from drivers making left turns, essentially going against the flow of traffic,” according to Elizabeth Rasberry, a former UPS public relations manager. Drivers are instead encouraged to drive in right-hand loops to get to their destination.
Today, many of the routes are designed to avoid left turns, and UPS says the policy has saved 100 million gallons of gas and reduced carbon emissions by 100,000 metric tons since 2004. The habit sticks with drivers long after they've handed in the keys to their big brown truck. As Dyer said, “Even today I’ll sit in traffic and I’ll kind of talk to the car in front of me and say, ‘Turn right to go left!’”
16. They’re judging you.
“UPS drivers see a lot,” one former driver told Mental Floss. And they’re not just talking about making judgments based on packages. UPS drivers can discern a lot about your life through a cracked door. “We make instant judgments about you. We see if you have a maid. We know what kind of food you’re cooking, or if you have a dog. We know if you have orgies at your house. We can tell when someone’s getting a divorce.”
17. Yes, people try to seduce them.
“There will always be someone on your route who is interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with you,” a former driver told Mental Floss. “The male drivers have stories about women who come to the door dressed in a negligee, and the women experience the same with the opposite sex. It happened to me twice.”
18. They deliver some odd things.
A few notable deliveries: In 1987, UPS delivered an iceberg chunk roughly the size of a fridge to a children’s museum in Venezuela. In 2007, two whales were shipped from Taiwan to Atlanta. And in 2008, a group of 2200-year-old Chinese terracotta warriors and horses were shipped via UPS to four American museums for exhibition.
A version of this story originally ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.