Commercial trucking traces its routes to 19th Century Europe, but the U.S. commercial trucking industry owes much its existence to the expansion and improvement of the highway system in the post World War I period.
Together with technological improvements in engines, tires, transmissions and braking technology, the improved roads helped trucking grow to compete with rail. The trucking industry has weathered recession, regulation, deregulation, re-regulation, global political changes, and more, but still remains the backbone of our commercial transport system.
Here are some high points in the history of trucking so far.
Early 1900s — Technical advances in automobile technology, including the replacement of solid rubber tires with pneumatic (air-filled) tires, and improvements in engine and braking technology, helped make commercial trucking into a viable business.
1930s — Serious regulation of the trucking industry begins, partially to protect the railroads, which are starting to feel pressure from decreased freight and passenger declines due the improving road infrastructure and automobile technology.
Mid 1900s — Container transportation comes into prominence, and the newly created Department of Transportation regulates motor carrier safety, driver licensing and work hours, and braking standards.
1980s — Partial deregulation led to an explosion of new trucking companies fierce competition. By the end of the decade, one-third of the 100 largest trucking companies were out of business. New uniform weight and size limit regulations for trucks using interstate highways were adopted.
1990s — Changes in Federal legislation mean almost complete deregulation of the industry. NAFTA is enacted. At the end of the decade, a surplus of used trucks leads to a crash in truck value, causing bankruptcy filings by many trucking companies.
2000s — Further changes in government regulations and tax laws, rising fuel prices and two recessions mark a difficult time for the trucking industry. Even so, given trucking’s resilient past and its position as a key element in commerce, there is room for optimism in the industry. Every day 43 million tons of goods, worth about $29 billion, is moved nearly 12 billion ton-miles on the nation's interconnected transportation network, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
What are you predictions for trucking’s future?