For most of us, the trucking industry is a complete mystery. We don't understand the life of a driver or the special language they use to communicate with each other. But if you take some time to pull back the curtain, you'll find an interesting subculture filled with its own slang, history, and humor.
Since truckers traverse long distances on a daily basis, often in isolation, their language has become an essential way for them to connect to each other through their shared experience. It's developed over time from cross-country trips and truck stops all over America. The language is incredibly specific to the obstacles and issues drivers deal with on a daily basis. This blog post aims to explore some of that language, giving readers a better understanding of the rigors faced by professional drivers every day.
We'll look at how this specialized jargon has evolved over time, what it really means when truckers use certain terms, and how that language is tied to how truckers make their living.
#1: Drop & Hook Freight
Drop-and-hook freight is a term used in the trucking industry that refers to the exchange of loaded containers between trucks. When a trucker drops off a fully-loaded container, they can immediately hook up their truck to another pre-loaded container at the same facility. This efficient delivery system requires no waiting for loading or unloading and results in higher pay for drivers since it eliminates wasted time.
Drop-and-hook freight has become increasingly popular recently because it has many advantages over traditional freight delivery. With drop-and-hook, drivers are able to avoid delays caused by long lines at loading docks and inefficient freight handling processes. It also reduces damage during transport since there is no need to manually transfer cargo from one trailer to another. Additionally, this method eliminates the need for drivers to find parking spots when picking up and dropping off cargo, saving them further time and money.
The drop-and-hook method was traditionally limited to large fleets and carriers, who could more easily coordinate shipments between multiple locations. However, due to technological advances in logistics tracking and communication systems, smaller companies are now able to access this type of delivery service as well.
By providing drivers with steady work via this type of run, companies can reduce overhead costs while making drivers' lives easier.
#2: Live Unload
Live load/unload is the opposite of drop-and-hook freight and has been the norm in the industry for decades. In live load/unload situations, a driver arrives at a facility and docks the trailer to await unloading or loading. No matter how long it takes, the driver has to wait for the workers to finish handling the cargo before he can leave.
Live load/unload drives up the cost of the drive due to the waiting time required by loading and unloading; drivers are paid by the mile, so any additional time spent waiting increases overall costs. Additionally, live unloads mean that there are longer lengths where drivers may be towing an empty trailer, as they do not leave it behind as they would if they were doing drop-and-hook operations. This further increases costs as drivers are often unpaid for transporting empty trailers.
Live loads and unloads can also lead to delayed arrival times due to long wait times; this can be incredibly problematic for drivers trying to meet tight deadlines or those working within certain time constraints. Furthermore, delivery dates will get pushed back depending on how quickly cargo is loaded or unloaded; a lot of congestion or poor organization at a facility causes delays that significantly disrupt timelines.
#3: Detention Time
Detention time is a direct result of live load and unload operations. When a driver arrives at a facility, they must wait for the loading or unloading process to complete before they can continue their trip. This waiting time adds up, eating away into the driver’s schedule and leading to detention fees for shippers or receivers who are not able to finish within two hours of the driver's arrival. Not only does this delay affect a trucker's productivity, but it also affects their pay due to Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. HOS rules count these hours as part of their daily max, meaning that drivers are unable to work extra long shifts on days when they've had several long waits. Furthermore, if they need to rest up in between trips, they aren't able to get paid while doing so due to HOS restrictions.
Carriers typically charge a detention fee to shippers and receivers who take longer than two hours with the loading/unloading process. These fees cover the cost of compensating drivers who have been kept waiting because someone else was running late or behind schedule with their work. While inconvenient, detention time at least doesn't punish drivers for problems outside their control.
#4: Trailer Pools
Trailer pools are a logistics innovation that has enabled the rapid and efficient spread of drop-and-hook freight. Essentially, these pools involve trucking companies leaving a group of trailers at a shipper's facility. The trailers are then available for loading, allowing for efficient organization and transportation without needing to wait for a driver to arrive. This means that when drivers come in, they can simply unhook their load and take the next one with minimal delay. This approach also helps shippers by eliminating detention time costs.
The advantage of trailer pools is that they provide shippers with more flexibility. Instead of having to wait until a driver arrives before loading, they can load multiple trailers at once and have them ready when the driver arrives. This allows them to better manage their schedules and avoid delays caused by unanticipated events or unexpected traffic. Furthermore, by having multiple empty trailers onsite, it eliminates the need for drivers to drive back empty after delivering their load—meaning lower fuel costs as well as higher efficiency rates overall.
A lumper is a term used in the trucking world to refer to someone who assists with loading or unloading trailers. Often, lumpers are third-party services that are sourced by warehouses, usually handling food items. The amount of money the lumper charges for their services varies drastically, usually somewhere between $25 and $500 depending on the size of the trailer and the volume of work required. Truck drivers will typically pay lumpers at the point of service, after which they will be reimbursed by their carrier.
The use of lumpers has become increasingly necessary due to rising transportation costs and tightening schedules that require faster turnaround times from shippers. The increase in demand has led many freight companies to hire full-time or part-time employees in order to meet customer needs and expectations more quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, third-party lumping services can be used in areas where there is limited access to labor resources or where local labor laws restrict certain types of work activities.
#6: Speed Governors
A speed governor is a device that utilizes the engine's computer and electronic sensors to limit the maximum speed of a vehicle. The governor uses data generated by these sensors to detect the current speed, then manipulate air flow, fuel intake, and spark timing in order to prevent the vehicle from accelerating beyond a predetermined point. This system prevents truck drivers from exceeding government-mandated limits and eliminates the need for manual speed monitoring.
Speed governors are often installed on commercial trucks in order to reduce insurance costs for carriers. By limiting the top speed of vehicles, crash risks can be reduced significantly and therefore help lower premiums. Currently, there is no federal requirement for commercial vehicles to be equipped with this technology, but the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed making them mandatory multiple times in recent years.
#7: Gators, Alligators, or Baby Gators
In trucking terms, a "gator" or "road gator" is a piece of debris left behind by a blown-out tire. Blown-out tires, when laid flat on the road, can resemble the hide of an alligator from a distance; hence the term "gator." Smaller pieces are called “baby alligators.”
Tire blowouts can be serious hazards, for truckers as well as motorists around them. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released statistics showing that tire failures cause approximately 11,000 truck crashes each year. This number includes any type of tire failure, but it’s believed that many of these crashes are caused by blowouts.
When something goes wrong with a tire while driving at high speeds, the results can be devastating. Pieces of rubber can fly off the tire and hit other cars or pedestrians nearby and cause property damage or injury. The sudden change in pressure inside the tire can also cause it to crash against the rim of the wheel, causing further damage to itself or other parts of the vehicle while straining the brakes and steering systems, which may lead to even more dangerous situations down the line.
Truckers are required to check their own tires regularly as part of routine maintenance so they don't get caught off guard by unexpected blowouts or wear & tear. Checking air pressure levels, tread depth, sidewall integrity, and overall condition are key steps for avoiding any potential blowouts that could put both driver and fellow motorists at risk on today's roads.
#8: Bear Bites
Truckers and other drivers on the road have long referred to highway patrol officers and state troopers as “bears”. While this might seem like an odd nickname, there is a story behind it. One explanation for why police are called bears dates back to the 1940s when Smokey Bear first appeared in public service announcements. Smokey Bear was a popular cartoon character with a big hat that was very similar to the hats worn by state troopers. This led many truckers and other drivers on the road to call these law enforcement officers “Smokies” or “bears” as an easy way of identifying them.
So a “bear bite” became the term for a ticket handed out by highway patrol or state troopers. It's hard not to wonder how this slang phrase first appeared—perhaps after getting a ticket from an officer (the proverbial bite from a bear), truckers began referring to these encounters as "bear bites". Whatever the origin, bear-related slang terms like “bear trap” (speed trap), “bear in the air” (police aircraft), or “Papa Bears” (higher ranking officers) are recognizable among truckers around the country as cheeky slang for law enforcement officers.
In trucking, a reefer is a refrigerated trailer used to transport temperature-sensitive goods. Reefers typically have insulated walls, specialized cooling systems, and temperature-control devices to ensure the cargo inside is maintained at the right temperature. They can also be equipped with additional features such as alarms, sensors, and tracking devices to monitor the condition and whereabouts of the cargo. Reefers are often used for transporting food items or temperature-sensitive products like vaccines and medications. They are also widely used in the transportation of other types of cargo, including chemicals, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and electronics.
Deadheading is when a trucker drives an empty trailer after having dropped off their cargo. While this helps keep supplies and goods moving along the necessary routes, it comes at the cost of contractors’ earnings as they are paid for each full load. This means that deadheading, or unpaid driving, reduces the amount of money earned by truckers.
If that weren't bad enough, deadheading is more dangerous than trucking with a full trailer. Studies have shown that trucks carrying an empty trailer are 2.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident due to factors such as trailer sway and the unfamiliarity of driving an empty trailer. This risk is further compounded when taking into account that deadhead miles usually occur at times when drivers are most exhausted, such as late at night or early morning hours.
To counter these risks and costs associated with deadheading, some organizations have implemented drop-and-hook freight setups which allow truckers to quickly exchange trailers without having to wait for loading or unloading time on either end. While this is beneficial for both reducing costs and improving safety, it does not completely eliminate the need for deadheading as certain locations may not have these types of agreements in place yet.
Ultimately, deadheading is an unavoidable part of life as a trucker; however, understanding what it entails and how it affects drivers can help ensure that it does not come with too great a cost in terms of money or safety risk.
#11: Sandbagging or "Reading the Mail"
Sandbagging is a term used in the trucking world to describe listening to CB chatter without actually contributing. It’s a way for truckers to stay informed on what’s happening out on the roads without having to actually talk or engage in conversation. This could be anything from staying up-to-date on weather advisories or checking in with other truckers who may have encountered something unexpected along their routes. Sandbagging is also a way for some truckers to combat isolation and loneliness during long stretches of open road.
Sandbagging speaks to one of the most important parts of trucking culture: CB radio. Citizen's Band radio is a key part of how and why trucker slang developed, as truckers needed a way to send information to other drivers quickly, clearly, and engagingly. Truckers may hear all sorts of things while sandbagging, ranging from friendly banter between friends, speed trap warnings, or even just idle chatter about who caught what fish last weekend. It can be a great source of information as well as entertainment during long hauls.
These are just a handful of terms that truckers throw around on a semi-regular basis. Although these terms seem somewhat silly at first, they serve a practical purpose and are as much a part of the job as steering wheels and airhorns. That's why we think it's important for other people to know them too—to understand just a little bit how trucking and trucker safety is a key part of highway safety for all of us.