Trucking Industry in the U.S. - a thriving industry

The trucking industry is one of the biggest in the United States, Canada and other industrialized countries. Just about everything that we eat, wear and use has been transported at least part of the way by truck. That comes as no surprise when you consider that trucks can travel anywhere that there are roads, whereas trains need rails, ships need water and planes can only fly. The truck driver's life is also a common subject in songs, books and movies.

Types of trucks

Engineers have designed many types of trucks for many types of jobs. The kind that often comes to mind when we hear the word "truck" is the huge semitrailer rig that dwarfs the cars with which it shares the road. Such trucks are a familiar sight on interstate highways. The general-purpose form has the shape of a big box, and there are several variations, including: Other types of trucks include dump trucks, garbage trucks, concrete mixers, bottlers, mail trucks and many types that are not suitable for highway driving. These are used in mines, quarries and other areas where the terrain is rough.

Types of trucking firms

There are two main kinds of trucking firms, both of which are subject to government regulations. Private carriers either own or lease their trucks and use them for transporting their own goods, while for-hire carriers are paid to transport those of other companies. The latter may be divided further into three subcategories:

Road trains

Road trains, composed of a tractor hauling a series of trailers, are often used in less heavily populated regions such as the Rocky Mountains and especially in Australia, where the term originated (Americans use other terms, such as Rocky Mountain double) which has the longest and heaviest vehicles in the world that can legally be used on roads. The laws that regulate the licensing and weight of such vehicles, where they are used — they are illegal in many places — are very strict. Road trains are used to carry cattle, sheep, minerals, fuel and other things.


Semitrailers and all their precious cargo are commonly carried on railroad flatcars in a method known as piggybacking. Trains used for such transportation are called roads. At the destination point, they are removed, attached to tractors and transported the rest of the way. Piggybacking is much cheaper than using a big rig for the full route. However, many truck drivers have objected to its use, fearing that it will result in a reduction of their wages. Piggybacking is a type of intermodal transport, a method of shipping in which more than one form of transportation is used. Semitrailers may also be carried on ships or planes.

Becoming a truck driver

In order to become a driver of a big rig, one needs to pass a driving test and receive a special state license. At one time, it was common for drivers to obtain licenses from more than one state, so that if one of them was revoked because of a traffic violation, the driver would still have a spare. But now the law allows a trucker to have only one license. If he loses that, he cannot drive at all. All truck drivers must keep a detailed log of their trips. The log records such details as the routes he took and where and when he stopped for gas or other services. Each page in the logbook uses carbon paper, the copy being for the driver's employer. Law enforcement officials can require him to present the log to them. Ten hours is the maximum time that anyone can drive a semi continually. After that, he must yield the wheel to his partner.

The life of a driver

The truck driver has often been regarded as the industrial-age counterparts of the nineteenth-century American pioneer or cowboy. Like them, he has been the subject of many popular songs, including Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road," Gordon Lightfoot's "Long Thin Dawn" and Jim Croce's "Big Wheel." Films that portray the life of the trucker include They Drive by Night, starring Humphrey Bogart, and Convoy, based on a song of the same name. In Beverly Cleary's book Dear Mr. Henshaw, the child narrator's father is a truck driver who is away much of the time. The reality TV series Ice Road Truckers deals with the often difficult work of drivers in the far northern wastelands of Alaska. Truck drivers often do lead lonely lives, being on the road for days on end. They often face such problems as unpaid wages, sleep apnea and restrictions on idling. An article on trucking in a 1974 edition of National Geographic quotes one driver as saying, "Trucking is fine if you're single, but it's no good for the married man." And indeed, the rate of divorce among truckers is notably higher than it is among many other workers. Drivers often feel as though they are "married" to the road.

Other employees in the trucking industry

Besides drivers, many other workers are employed in the trucking industry. These include dispatchers who direct drivers and their cargo to their destinations; freight handlers to load and unload the vehicles; bookkeepers who work for the firms; manufacturers who make truck parts; and mechanics who service them.