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What is a Truck Driver?
A truck driver or trucker is a professional who is licensed to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). They are responsible for transporting goods from one point to another, often over long distances. The role requires a unique set of skills, including mechanical knowledge, navigational abilities, patience, and a strong understanding of safety protocols. In addition, truck drivers need to comply with local, state, and federal regulations, including those related to working hours and rest periods. Now that you know what is a trucker, lets take a look at trucking positions and the history of trucking profession.
Truck Driver Positions
In general, there are 2 main truck driver positions – company drivers and owner-operators.
Company drivers are employed by a trucking company. They drive trucks provided by their employer and are tasked with the safe and timely delivery of goods.
Learn more about Company Driver here.
In contrast to company drivers, owner-operators are self-employed drivers who own and operate their trucks. They may operate independently, finding their loads via freight brokers or load boards, or lease their services to a larger trucking company.
Learn more about Owner-Operators here.
History of Truck Driver Profession
Late 19th to Early 20th Century
Trucking history began towards the end of the 19th century with the invention of the internal combustion engine. Early motorized trucks were used primarily for local goods transport and deliveries, as a supplement to rail transport.
During World War I, the military use of trucks proved their potential for more extensive freight transport. Following the war, in the 1920s, the trucking industry in the United States began to grow, helped along by the construction of the numbered highway system.
The 1930s to 1950s
During the Great Depression, the trucking industry was hit hard, but still continued to compete with railroads for freight transport. The Motor Carrier Act of 1935 brought regulation to the industry, aiming to protect it from too much competition. Truck drivers of this era often had to work under difficult conditions, facing long hours, low pay, and safety risks.
After World War II, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 resulted in the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the United States. This vast network of roads revolutionized the trucking industry, allowing for quicker and more efficient cross-country transport. As a result, the profession of long-haul truck driving grew dramatically.
Click here to read about Red Ball Express, and how truck drivers helped win World War 2.
The 1980s to Present
The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 deregulated the trucking industry, leading to increased competition and lower shipping costs. However, this also led to challenges like wage reduction and job instability for many truck drivers.
In the late 20th and early 21st century, advancements in technology began to shape the trucking industry. Innovations like GPS navigation, electronic logging devices, and improved communication systems made truck driving safer and more efficient.
Today, truck drivers remain a vital part of the global supply chain. They face new challenges, such as adapting to regulations for reducing carbon emissions, and potential automation with the development of self-driving trucks. However, the demand for skilled truck drivers remains high.
Truck Drivers in Pop Culture
Truck drivers have been portrayed in various forms of popular culture, often symbolizing a sense of adventure, machismo, freedom, or blue-collar work ethic. Here are a few notable truck drivers in movies and pop culture:
Cledus Snow in “Smokey and the Bandit”: Played by Jerry Reed, Cledus Snow is the truck-driving sidekick to Burt Reynolds’ character in this classic road movie. Snow drives the semi-truck full of bootleg beer across state lines.
Lincoln Hawk in “Over The Top”: In this 1987 movie, Sylvester Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, a struggling truck driver who tries to make amends with his estranged son and also competes in an arm-wrestling championship. The film showcases the trucking lifestyle and Stallone’s character’s truck is a significant element in the movie.
Martin ‘Rubber Duck’ Penwald in “Convoy”: Kris Kristofferson plays the rebellious truck driver Martin Penwald, known by his CB handle ‘Rubber Duck’, in this 1978 film directed by Sam Peckinpah. The film, and its famous song by C.W. McCall, celebrate the CB radio culture of the 70s trucking era.
Jack Burton in “Big Trouble in Little China”: Played by Kurt Russell, Jack Burton is a truck driver who gets dragged into an ancient mystical battle in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The movie is a cult favorite and Russell’s character, with his big rig named “The Pork-Chop Express,” is quite memorable.
The Truck Driver in “Duel”: In Steven Spielberg’s early film “Duel,” the truck driver is an unseen, menacing figure who chases the main character in a deadly road game. The truck itself becomes a symbol of faceless terror.
Phil Beddoe in “Every Which Way But Loose” and its sequel “Any Which Way You Can”: Clint Eastwood plays Phil Beddoe, a truck driver and brawler who roams the West with his brother and an orangutan named Clyde.
B.J. and the Bear: A TV series from the late 70s and early 80s featuring B.J. McKay, a truck driver who travels the highways with his companion Bear, a chimpanzee.
The Bottom Line
From their early beginnings to the present day, truck drivers have played a crucial role in shaping economies, supporting industries, and connecting communities. Their profession continues to evolve alongside technological advancements and societal changes.
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