From its humble beginnings in the beginning of the 20th century, the trucking industry has boomed into one of the largest industries in the U.S. But with that has come an avalanche of rules & regulations, stereotypes and expectations. To understand how life on the road came to be what it is for a commercial driver in the 21st century, you'll have to understand how history unfolded. And before we can understand the present and move forward from here, we have to take an honest look at the current state of the trucking industry.
The notion of building a system of interstate highways to aid the United States in moving products/goods and relieving congestion was first conceived in 1939 in a report titled Toll Roads and Free Roads, presented to Congress by the Bureau of Public Roads. It wasn't until 1956 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law. This established the program for funding and building the system whose initial design was started in 1944 and completed in 1955. While there has been much speculation about the nature of military use the highways were designed for, and this potential was perceived by Eisenhower and others, it was not the main goal. The 1950's post war economy was booming and there were more car owners and more interstate freight than ever before. A means to move freight efficiently was in high demand because the rail system was limited to deliveries to fixed locations.
While the trucking industry began to grow as early as 1910, it wasn’t until World War I that prompted its growth due to the high demand on trains for war efforts. By the 1920's the diesel engine was introduced and states began enforcing weight limits on trucks. The highway system was still decades off. The trucking industry, however, was growing quickly. In 1934 the Code of Fair Competition was agreed upon by The American Highway Freight Association and the Federal Trucking Associations of America, which merged to become the American Trucking Associations. However, Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act to replace the agreement in 1935. The first Hours of Service regulations were enacted in 1938. The Interstate Commerce Commission, which had regulated the rail industry since its inception in 1887, also oversaw the trucking industry until it was abolished in 1995.
As the interstate highway system was being built, the first federal weight limit was applied to trucks at 73,208 pounds, and the invention of the inter-modal system enabled inbound ship freight to be transferred by truck to its destination in a much easier and more cost effective manner. By 1970 there were more than 18,000 semis on the roads, and bureaucrats continued to apply more regulations to every aspect of the industry. The federal weight limit was raised to 80,000 pounds but did not set a federal minimum, so several states refused to raise the limit within their states, making interstate commerce difficult. Any manufacturer in any state must be able to transport their products (expand their market) to other states in order to grow and expand. Varying regulations from state to state adversely affect transportation and planning. Being able to transport 80,000 pounds of widgets from Ohio to Idaho costs less per unit than only being able to ship 72,000 pounds, and the logistics of having to plan different loads depending on the laws of differing states creates an environment rich with opportunities for errors.
The 1970's was the trucking industry’s heyday insofar as the establishment of the image most Americans have of these big rig drivers. While federal regulation dictated everything from hours of service and weight limits, to rates that could be charged, and truckers were required to get a "Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity" from the ICC, which required proof of - you guessed it - public convenience and necessity, the nation saw the rise of the trucking culture. CB's, convoys, movies, songs, and truckers brandishing the image, all aided the national stereotype. But it wasn't until the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 that the trucking industry was deregulated and the industry boom really began.
The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 opened the industry up to competition. Companies were no longer at the mercy of the big carriers challenging their rates and making it difficult for them to operate. But while the market is wide open, the regulatory body still makes life difficult, not only for the companies, but for the drivers.
If a driver picks up a load at a shipper, and the shipper does not have a scale on site, the driver must make their way to the nearest scale they can find. This is usually at a truck stop, to make sure they are legal. If they are weighed by authorities before they weigh themselves, and found to be overweight (even if it is on just one axle and simply sliding the tandems could fix the problem), they will receive a hefty fine.
When a driver arrives at a shipper or receiver, and needs to wait for several hours to be loaded or unloaded, if he has already started his fourteen hours, his 14 hour clock will work against him. And if the driver must shut down due to hours of service and the shipper/receiver does not allow a driver to stay on the property once loaded/unloaded. The driver has no choice but to leave and seek safe haven to park for the night. If, however, he is pulled over and an officer discovers, after viewing the drivers logs, that he is past his fourteen hour limit, the driver will also receive a hefty fine.
If a driver is involved in an accident with a car, though the car caused the accident and there is no fault on the truck drivers part, the truck driver must immediately submit to a drug and alcohol screening, an inspection of his truck, and he must provide his logs for at least the past eight days so that an inspector can peruse them for potential violations.
These are just three examples of the myriad rules a truck driver must follow. Often, the circumstances are beyond his/her control. But a persona has been attached to truck drivers. Though the entire nation relies on them to a much larger degree than they realize, most people see them as dirty, fat-belly voyeurs who should be treated with suspicion and disdain. Yes, there are drivers who aid in the perception, but most of them are simply trying to make a living and get home to their families.
It is inevitable that when you get into your car and drive just about anywhere, you will encounter at least one semi truck sharing the road with you. Trucking is a huge industry. According to Popular Mechanics, there are roughly two million tractor/trailers traversing the roads daily, and more than three million truck drivers with a CDL. While there are some big trucking companies in the United States, like Swift Transportation, which is the largest with 16,000 trucks and nearly 49,000 trailers, and JB Hunt with its 12,000 trucks and more than 47,000 trailers, about 90% of the trucking industry is comprised of companies with fewer than six trucks. All of these share the same goal; to get the products produced here, to the store that sells them there, or at least to the distribution centers. Even from there, a semi is usually the means of transportation for products going to each store.
It is often said that a grocery store will run out of food in three days if not deliveries are received. Popular Mechanics also states that 68% of all goods in the United States are delivered by semi trucks. That equates to about 60,000 pounds per person in the country, with agriculture being one of the two largest commodities by weight. This is a necessary industry.
Truck drivers have their own thoughts on the rules imposed on them. Some of the regulations are fair. Others simply interfere and do no good service to anyone.
The fourteen hour rule is one of the most often complained about rules. Most drivers agree, if they are stuck at a shipper/receiver for several hours, those hours should be tacked onto the end of their workday. A simple requirement for shippers/receivers to time stamp the paperwork with in/out times would provide proof of the truckers' delay. The added hours would allow them to actually work, to drive to their next stop.
The thirty-four hour restart is another point of contention. First, drivers are only allowed one restart per week. If something impedes their ability to drop their load, which might be the scheduled delivery time being scheduled further out than necessary to reach the destination, a driver may be forced down for the equivalent of a thirty-four hour restart because of circumstances beyond his control. In this case, he has taken the hours off. Why is he unable to start a fresh week with 70 hours?
The rule also states that he must be off for two consecutive mornings from 1:00 am to 5:00 am because those are the hours during which drivers are most tired. What difference does this make? He drives during those hours other days of the week. If a driver has thirty-four consecutive hours off, this should be enough to gain a fresh 70 hour workweek.
Bureaucrats are great at finding reasons to pass more laws and rules. It would be nice if they would consider the opinions of those whom they endeavor to regulate and apply some logic and reason. Most truck drivers are hard working, safety minded people who want to do a job and make a paycheck, and then go home to their families. Please feel free to make your opinions known to your congressmen. There has to be someone out there who will stand for these hard working men and women.