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ICAT Blog: Article The Importance of the Trucking Industry

July 7, 2021

Truck TypesTrucks. Big rigs. Tractor trailers.

Whatever you call them, one thing is for certain: you see them on the road every single day. But, do you understand the magnitude of the trucking industry and how it impacts the U.S. economy? We’ll go into this more and review some of the most common trailer types used for transporting goods throughout the country.

So, just how big is the trucking industry?

Glad you asked! To put it in perspective, the trucking industry is one of the largest revenue streams in the nation’s economy—reaching $791.7 billion in 2019—and is responsible for transporting 70 percent of all goods in the United States. In addition to the movement of goods, the trucking industry employs roughly 6 percent of the nation’s workforce.

How important is the trucking industry?

Businesses of all sizes depend on trucks to deliver their products to their facilities. And although trains, ships, and planes move cargo all over the world, trucks are what deliver goods from rail yards, ports, and airports to their final destinations. If the trucking industry stopped rolling, the U.S. economy would literally grind to a halt.

With more than 3.5 million truck drivers employed by the industry across the country, there isn’t much that hasn’t been transported in a truck at some point. This includes items you use every day, including petroleum, textiles, wood, motor vehicles, furniture, and agricultural products. In 2019 alone, trucks moved 11.84 BILLION tons of freight—72.5% of domestic U.S. freight, 67.7% of U.S. freight to Canada, and 83.1% of U.S. freight to Mexico. Now THAT is a lot of freight!

And, let’s not forget all the dangers, regulations, and dedication involved within this industry. In 2019, truck driving was named the seventh most fatal job in the country with those numbers comprising nearly 20% of all deaths resulting from workplace incidents. Commercial vehicle driving is not only hazardous to the truck drivers, but also to their passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians.

The trucking industry also has rules in place regarding the cargo weight and dimensions. The maximum legal weight limit of the cargo, tractor, trailer, gas, and driver is 80,000 pounds in every U.S. state. And, anything above that weight limit, or outside the dimensions of the trailer, requires a permit. That permit may dictate what roads can be used, the hours in which the load can be moved, and whether or not an escort (flag or police) will be required. A different permit is also required for each state through which the load will be moved.

In addition to abiding by the typical rules of the road, truck drivers must follow laws regulating their time spent and the speed at which they can move. Freight drivers have limits on how long they can be behind the wheel on a given day, as well as specified definitions of on-and-off-duty hours.

  • Freight Drivers’ Daily Hours: A maximum of 11 driving hours after 10 hours off duty; a maximum of 14 hours can be spent on duty.
  • Freight Drivers’ Break Time: A minimum 30-minute break after eight consecutive driving hours.
  • Freight Drivers’ Hours vs. Days on Duty: 60 hours on duty in seven days or 70 hours on duty in eight days; 34 hours must be taken off before starting a new set of days.

Large trucks are often expected to follow standard speed limits, though some states have maximum speeds they’re allowed to drive. Although this is the case, all states consider going 15 mph or more above the speed limit in a commercial vehicle to be a serious violation.

We learned the importance of the trucking industry, but what types of trucks actually move the freight?

Well, technically it’s the trailers that are different—not the actual trucks themselves. And, this could take a REALLY long time to go through, as there are many different types of trailers used to move goods, so to save time, we’ll review the six most common trailers you see on the road today.

Dry Vans

Also known as enclosed trailers, dry vans are the most common freight containers for transporting cargo, particularly goods that need to remain in a dry environment, such as food, clothes, and electronics.

The maximum weight limit for dry vans is 42,000 pounds and range from 48 feet to 53 feet in length. They are most commonly unloaded with a forklift or pallet jack from the rear of the trailer.

Flatbed Trailers

Flatbed trailers are very common as well and are used mainly because of their versatility. Flatbeds can be utilized for everything from steel coils to lumber. They are essentially an open container, meaning there’s no containing box covering the cargo being shipped.

Flatbed trailers have a maximum weight limit of 48,000 pounds and range from 48 feet to 53 feet in length. For legal operation of the trailer, the maximum width is 8.5 feet and the maximum height is 8.5 feet measured from the surface of the bed. The standard height of a flatbed trailer is roughly 60 inches off the ground.

Straight Trucks

Also called box trucks, cube trucks or cube vans, straight trucks—unlike other types of trucks—have the trailer permanently affixed to the power unit. On average, the truck can be anywhere from 10 feet to 26 feet in length, with a maximum capacity of 10,000-26,000 pounds depending on the size of the truck.

 Refrigerated Trailers

Refrigerated trailers are basically dry vans that are insulated and have a cooling system that keeps the enclosed goods fresh. This type of trailer is mostly used to transport perishables like frozen foods and produce but are also utilized when moving certain pharmaceuticals.

Refrigerated trailers have the same maximum weight as dry vans, but they have a maximum legal width of 8.2 feet and a maximum height of 8 feet.

Step Deck Trailers

Step deck trailers are very similar to flatbed trailers with the only difference being the maximum height, which is 10 feet on a step deck. These trailers are specifically designed to carry freight that flatbed trailers can’t handle, usually due to height restrictions.

Lowboy Trailers

Lowboy trailers are the go-to when hauling heavy, oversized loads that are taller than legal height for other trailers. These trailers are often used to move heavy construction equipment and materials and can haul anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 pounds depending on the number of axles.

The maximum well length of a lowboy trailer is 29.6 feet but can be as low as 24 feet. The maximum height is 18 to 25 inches and the maximum legal width for any lowboy is 8.5 feet. Lowboy trailers require additional permits in order to transport oversized cargo on state roads and highways. The real attraction to lowboy trailers is the fact that they have a maximum 12-foot freight height and overall load height of 14 feet.


Nicole Reed , CX Manager

Nicole Reed

CX Manager