Chapter 1: Trucking Industry Overview

Trucking Industry Statistics Regulations and Safety InformationNearly 70% of all freight moved in the United States moves on trucks. The volume of freight and materials moved by water, rail, pipeline, and other modes of transportation does not compare to the dominant activity of trucks. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), 9.9 billion tons of freight is moved annually across America and it takes more than three million truck drivers to accomplish this feat.

What is being moved?

A staggering 9.96 billion tons of freight is currently moving in the United States annually. The ATA shares these statistics about the vast and expansive reach of the trucking business:

  • The trucking industry employs 7.1 million people in various types of trucking-related activities, as well as 3.5 million drivers.
  • Truck drivers traveled 275 billion miles in 2013 and used 52.7 billion gallons of diesel fuel.
  • In 2013, commercial trucks paid $37.3 billion dollars in federal and state highway user fees.

In addition, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported in early 2014 that trucks carried 59.9 percent of all U.S.-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) freight and were the most heavily utilized mode for moving goods to and from (importing and exporting) Canada and Mexico, our NAFTA partners. It appears there is no dispute that trucking—a $700.4 billion industry in the United States in 2014–is a major force in our country’s economy.

Where is it moving?

A lattice of highways form the major inland network of freight distribution in the U.S. There are other major transport corridors along waterways, such as in New York and New Jersey, but the most active inland cities for freight distribution are Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Louisville, KY; Cincinnati and Columbus, OH; Charlotte, NC; Indianapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, MO and Minneapolis, MN; Oklahoma City, Denver, CO; Salt Lake City, UT; Atlanta, Phoenix, AZ; and El Paso, Laredo and Dallas, TX.

Who is doing the moving?

According to the USDOT, as of the end of 2013, there were 1.3 million carriers on file with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This included 465,697 for-hire carriers, 725,179 private carriers and 168 , 680 other interstate motor carriers. Most of those in the latter group operate fewer than 20 trucks.

Almost every industry in America depends on the movement of freight by truck. Hospitals, pharmacies, retail stores, gas stations, grocery stores, and banks are just a few of the businesses that require frequent delivery by truck. Garbage disposal facilities, crude oil, petroleum and lumber products, construction materials suppliers, and the agricultural industry all depend on trucks to carry and deliver cargo imperative to business operations. Trucks haul materials through all stages of production from raw materials down to the finished product.

What is doing the moving?

The USDOT defines eight classes of vehicles that haul freight. Their classification is based on their gross weight vehicle rating (GWVR). For purposes of this publication, we focus on the larger 6 classes of vehicles, as classes 1 and 2 are made up of mainly passenger-type vehicles.

Medium-duty vehicles generally weigh between 10,001 pounds (GWVR) and 26,000 pounds and are in Classes 3 through 6. They include commercial vehicles such as local delivery trucks, ambulances, small buses and others.

Heavy-duty vehicles weigh from 26,001 pounds to 80,000 pounds and are Class 7 or Class 8 commercial vehicles. Class 8 is divided into two subgroups. Class 8a includes dump and refuse trucks, fire engines and city buses. Most tractor trailers are in Class8b.

By comparison, the average weight of your average passenger vehicle on the road today is about 3,300 lbs. (even on the high end, many large SUVs weigh in at no more than 6,000 lbs.). So, getting hit by even the smallest of these commercial carriers, weighing in at three times the average vehicle, can create catastrophic damages. Even more alarming, imagine a fully loaded 18-wheeler weighing over 200,000 lbs. colliding with a compact vehicle or motorcycle. These large vehicles, by their sheer size, create an unparalleled danger to motorists.

Who regulates the industry?

Federal Regulation

Since 2000, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been in charge of promulgating industry-wide regulations, covering the interstate activities of motor carriers from the pavement on up. These regulations include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • exhaust emissions
  • inspection protocols
  • driver health and drive times
  • mechanical condition of a vehicle

Before the rubber ever meets the road, the FMCSA determines how a driver becomes qualified to drive and maintains his or her qualification. Penalties for not following these regulations can be levied on the driver and the company he works for and some are very substantial.

State Regulation

While federal regulations govern interstate commerce, states may be inclined to develop their own sets of rules and regulations for businesses that operate solely within the state. An example may be a local bakery or newspapers that only make deliveries within the state boundaries.

Often times, state regulations mirror those of their federal counterpart. However, when differences arise, federal regulations generally trump both state statutory law and even state common law.

What are the safety standards?

Maximum Drive Times

One of the top factors contributing to trucking accidents is driver fatigue. Drowsy driving decreases the ability to pay attention on the road, slows reaction time, and affects a driver’s ability to make good decisions. Combine these dangers with a 200,000 lb. projectile traveling at a high rate of speed, and the likelihood for catastrophe increases exponentially. To make the industry as safe as possible, the FMCSA restricts and monitors the number of hours a truck driver may continue behind the wheel. In other words, they regulate the driver’s “Hours of Service.” There are different rules for drivers carrying property and drivers transporting passengers. The “Hours of Service” restrictions apply to the following:

  • Trucks or tractor-trailers involved in interstate commerce even when the truck is empty
  • Trucks weighing (including load) 10,001 pounds or more which have a GWVR or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Trucks transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards

The rule for driving with property is an 11-hour driving limit after starting out with 10 consecutive hours or more off duty. When the driver finishes the 11 hours, he may not drive again until 10 or more consecutive hours have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty period.


Truck drivers are required to keep a daily log of loads hauled, weight hauled, miles traveled, hours on duty, hours on duty not driving, consecutive days worked and other basic information.

As the trucking industry has evolved, so have the regulations on driving. After first being enacted in 1938, the controlling agencies have revised the rules time and again, with one constant in mind: minimizing driver fatigue and error due to excessive driving.

A driver’s log book is a legally defined document which breaks a 24-hour day into 15-minute increments. In addition to the basic information (driver name, company information, etc.), the driver must specify when and where he stopped between shifts, and what duties the driver performed while on the clock. The driver must present the log book to federal or state authorities for inspection if requested and must retain his logs for six months.

Truckers must also have their vehicles regularly inspected and keep a record of the results of that inspection, as well as any resulting repairs.

Despite the dangers of fatigued driving, the hours-of-service regulations, and the strict requirements on documentation, drivers often disregard, or even falsify their records. This practice can even come at the recommendation or instruction of their employers, in their efforts to maximize profit.

Driving Requirements

A truck driver must meet pre-employment screening and licensing standards. Even after you become a driver, you must continue to adhere to the standards set forth by the federal and state regulators, and can lose your right to operate the motor vehicles outlined above if you fail to do so.

Standards for Physical Health

The DOT requires the driver to undergo an initial physical, and re- examination every two years (more often if a driver has a condition such as high blood pressure which must still be within certain limits in order to drive). The driver must carry his medical examiner’s certificate with him at all times to show that he has passed the driver’s physical.

CDLs and Various License Endorsements

Commercial drivers must conform to certain regulations and maintain their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) if they legally operate any vehicle over 26,000 pounds or any vehicle that has air-operated brakes. The rigorous truck driver’s test goes beyond the vision test, driver’s skill test, age and insurance requirements the average automobile driver must meet to obtain a driver’s license.

Each CDL applicant must pass knowledge and skills tests and meet minimum federal standards. The driver must answer 80 percent of the questions correctly to pass the test.

A driver may also be disqualified from holding a CDL for:

  • Using a commercial vehicle in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing of a controlled substance. This infraction disqualifies one for life with no possibility of reinstatement.
  • Serious traffic violations such as speeding in excess of 15mph, driving recklessly, making improper or erratic lane changes, following too closely, violating any traffic control law in connection with a fatal accident and driving without a CDL.

Drivers are disqualified for 60 days for any second conviction within a three-year period of any combination of any offense committed in a commercial vehicle.

A driver is disqualified for one year for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, or if he leaves the scene of any accident, or continues to operate a commercial vehicle after being disqualified.

Railroad-highway grade crossing offenses. Penalties with this offense also become progressively more serious per number of infractions.

Violating out-of-service orders such as when transporting placarded hazardous materials. The weight of this offense also increases with the number of infractions within a certain time period.

There is no such thing as a “conditional” or “hardship CDL” or any type of limited driving privileges permitted to someone holding a CDL.

Any person who holds a CDL is considered to give their implied consent to any test of the driver being under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance while on duty, operating, or in physical control ofacommercialvehicle. Most companies give random tests while the driver is on duty. The trucker is notified to report to anearby lab within a brief timeframe to be tested for drug or alcohol use or both.

For persons applying for a hazardous materials endorsement, the driver must meet standards for this endorsement specified by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and must also provide proof of citizenship and a Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) registration number if needed.

Truck drivers obtain various classes of CDL endorsements depending on the type of vehicle; whether it has a trailer; the type of material the truck carries, such as hazardous material; the type of brakes and the number of passengers.

Testing is often in volved with many CDL endorsements. In addition, drivers who transport hazardous materials are required to placard their truck if carrying hazardous materials over a certain weight. This is to inform others that there are dangerous materials on board the vehicle.

Disqualification From Driving

If the state determines that an applicant has falsified information, or any of the required certification, the state shall disqualify a person from operating a commercial vehicle for at least 60 days. If the alleged fraud is in connection with the issuance of a license, the person must retake any test in which the authenticity of the results have been challenged within 30 days of notification of suspected fraud or be disqualified from holding a commercial license.

The FMCSA also has a 0.04% limit on blood alcohol concentration (BAC)levels. This compares to the 0.08% BAC limit for operation of non-commercial vehicles for drivers over 21 years of age in most states. Sanctions for alcohol-related driving violations may affect the driver’s qualification and eligibility for both commercial and non- commercial licenses.

A driver must notify his employer within 30 days of any traffic violation conviction, except a parking citation. If a driver’s license is suspended, revoked, disqualified, or cancelled, he must notify his employer by the end of the next business day following receipt of notice that action has been taken regarding his motor vehicle license.

Renewal Certifications

When the driver attempts to renew or update his CDL, the state must perform a check of the National Driver Registry (NDR) and the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) to ensure the driver is not disqualified in that state or another jurisdiction and does not possess more than one commercial license.

The state must request the complete driving record of the driver from all jurisdictions where the driver has been employed for the past 10 years. The driver must also certify as to the type of operation he expects to conduct during the next licensing period and must submit a copy of his medical examiner’s certificate to the state where his CDL is active ensuring he is physically qualified to operate a commercial vehicle.

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