Professional trucking is the career followed by professional truckers, who are often self-employed on a freelance basis, or employed by trucking companies. A freelance trucker will typically own his own truck, while company truckers will be paid an hourly wage to drive the trucks belonging to the company for which he works.
In the United States, most products are shipped via professional trucking. In prior times, the railroad shipped a lot of goods, but the development of the National Highway System and the consequent general shift from rail transit to the automobile is put more emphasis on trucks as opposed to rail. Very little freight is transported by air; air mail being one key exception. (In contrast to the public USPS, privatized mail services such as UPS and Federal Express still deliver mail in trucks.) Each day, more than 1 million tractor trailers and semis hit the road.
Regulation and Mexico
Professional trucking is a lightly regulated industry. Most trucking companies police themselves, with the caveat that the federal government requires a certain standard of behavior to be met by each employed trucker. For example, truckers coming into the United States from Mexico must be U.S. citizens, or else have green cards that allow them to work within the United States of America. Furthermore, they must be fluent in English, which is necessary to understand essential road signs such as traffic lights and speed limits. American truck companies and drivers have opposed increased competition from Mexican trucks and truckers, and have forced cancellation of an experimental program. This has caused diplomatic tension between the U.S. and Mexico.
Public opinion is solid in the U.S. In August 2009 a Rasmussen poll discovered that just 19% of Americans say the U.S. Congress should let trucks from Mexico cross the border and carry their loads on American highways, as Mexican President Felipe Calderon requested, while 66% oppose.
Long distance drivers
The nation's 1.9 million drivers of heavy truck and tractor-trailers operate trucks or vans with a capacity of at least 26,000 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). They transport goods ranging from autos to cattle to shipping containers. Sometimes two drivers totate on very long runs—one drives while the other sleeps in a berth behind the cab. Husband-wife teams are common. These "sleeper" runs can last for days, or even weeks. Trucks on sleeper runs typically stop only for fuel, food, loading, and unloading. They rely on truck stops along the major highways for fuel, meals and a quick shower.
Drivers also load and unload their cargo, especially when specialty cargo is involved and only the trucker understands the necessary procedures or is certified to handle specific cargoes. Auto-transport drivers, for example, position cars on the trailers at the manufacturing plant and remove them at the dealerships. When picking up or delivering furniture, drivers of long-distance moving vans hire local workers to help them load or unload.
Average (median) hourly earnings of heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers were $16.85 in 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.33 and $21.04 an hour. Hourly earnings of the nation's 1.1 million light or delivery services truck drivers were much lower, at $12.17 in 2006.
The image of the "lone trucker" as an outlaw in American pop culture has been erected over the years in films such as Smokey and the Bandit and Buckaroo Banzai, songs such as "Convoy", and modern TV shows such as Ice Road Truckers. To combat this perception, some organizations have called for stricter certification procedures for professional truckers. For example, truckers might have to pass a written test or even a driving test before being issued their rolling papers. Such calls have met with stern disapproval from trucking companies.
- Hamilton, Shane. Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy (2008), excerpt and text search; standard scholarly history
- Birla, Madan. FedEx Delivers: How the World's Leading Shipping Company Keeps Innovating and Outperforming the Competition (2005) excerpt and text search
- Frock, Roger. Changing How the World Does Business: Fedex's Incredible Journey to Success - The Inside Story (2006) excerpt and text search
- Pettus, Michael L. "The Resource-Based View as a Developmental Growth Process: Evidence from the Deregulated Trucking Industry," The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Aug., 2001), pp. 878-896 in JSTOR
- Zingales, Luigi. "Survival of the Fittest or the Fattest? Exit and Financing in the Trucking Industry," The Journal of Finance, Vol. 53, No. 3 (Jun., 1998), pp. 905-938 in JSTOR
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09: Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Workers (2008) online useful summary of job requirements, pay, and future prospects