Trucking & Transportation Terms

Truck Parking Lot

AFV (Alternative Fueled Vehicle)

An AVF is a vehicle that runs on substances other than petroleum gas or diesel, including electric, solar, biodiesel, ethanol, propane, compressed air, hydrogen, liquid natural gas and liquid petroleum.

Big Rig

Also known as a semi, semi-trailer, tractor-trailer, semi-truck, 18-wheeler and semi-tractor-trailer, a big rig is a combination vehicle made up of a semi-tractor and at least one semi-trailer. The big rig is the vehicle most people associate with long-haul trucking.

Bill of Lading

An itemized document acknowledging a carrier’s receipt of goods for transport from a shipper. The BOL describes the nature of the cargo, the amount of cargo (by weight, size, and/or number of containers) and its origin and destination. The BOL also includes a classification of the cargo if necessary, for example if it includes hazardous materials.


When a semi-truck is driven without a trailer attached, it is called a bobtail truck. Often confused with deadheading–which means driving with an empty trailer attached–bobtailing is something trucking companies try to avoid, because driving this way means not earning revenue for the trip. It is also more dangerous than hauling a trailer because of weight-distribution issues. Drivers sometimes need to bobtail after they have dropped off one load and are traveling to pick up another. Owner operators driving under a carrier’s authority will often need to obtain bobtail insurance to cover these instances.

Box Truck

Also known as a straight truck, bob truck, cube truck, or cube van, a box truck has a separate compartment for freight that is divided from the front cab where the driver sits. Most U-Haul trucks are box trucks.

Bridge Formula

The Bridge Formula was developed by the Federal Highway Administration to establish the maximum weight any set of axles on a motor vehicle may carry on interstate highways. U.S. Congress enacted the Bridge Formula in 1975 to limit the weight-to-length ratio of a vehicle crossing a bridge. This is accomplished either by spreading weight over additional axles or by increasing the distance between axles.

Three definitions are needed to use the Bridge Formula correctly.

  • Gross Weight—The weight of a vehicle or vehicle combination and any load thereon. The Federal gross weight limit on the Interstate System is 80,000 pounds unless the Bridge Formula dictates a lower weight limit.
  • Single-Axle Weight—The total weight on one or more axles whose centers are spaced not more than 40 inches apart. The Federal single-axle weight limit on the Interstate System is 20,000 pounds.
  • Tandem-Axle Weight—The total weight on two or more consecutive axles whose centers are spaced more than 40 inches apart but not more than 96 inches apart. The Federal tandem-axle weight limit on the Interstate System is 34,000 pounds.

Cab Card

A cab card is a state-issued registration document that is non-transferable and must be displayed inside a truck. The card shows which states the carrier is allowed to travel through and the carrier’s permitted weight limit.

CB Radio 

Citizens Band (CB) radio  is a person-to-person voice communication system that is widely used in trucking and is commonly found in big rig trucks. Truckers frequently use CB channel 19 (27.185 MHz) – informally called the highway channel or trucker's channel – to discuss road and weather conditions, coordinate activity at distribution centers and truck stops and for emergency communications.

CDL (Commercial Driver’s License)

A Commercial Driver’s License is required to operate large, heavy, or placarded hazardous material vehicles in the United States in commerce. There are three classes of CDLs:

  • Commercial A: Any legal combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Commercial B: Any single vehicle with a GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds, any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR, or a 3-axle vehicle weighing over 6,000 pounds.
  • Commercial C: Any Class C vehicle with one or more of the following endorsements:

COE (Cab-over Engine)

Cab over engine, also called cab forward and cab over, is a truck, bus, or van body design that features  a semi-hood with the cab of the truck above the front axle. With conventional trucks that are most commonly used in the U.S., the engine is mounted in front of the driver. The cab over engine design is common among European and Asian manufacturers. In the U.S., the cab over engine design is used for garbage trucks  and other vehicles doing jobs that require a tight turning radius and where the driver must frequently get in and out of the vehicle.

COFC (Container on Flatcar)

Container on flatcar is the term for rail freight service where a laden or empty container is loaded on a train’s flatcar. COFC is similar to Trailer on Flatcar (TOFC) except that TOFC also includes the trailer that the container is loaded on. 

Company Driver

A company driver is a W2 employee driving for a company that maintains its own fleet of trucks. Company drivers fall into two categories: 

  1. Drivers working for carriers that exist solely to transport the freight of others (referred to as for-hire carriers). 
  2. Drivers working for companies that carry their own freight to support their own company’s products or services (commonly called private carriers).

Container Chassis

A container chassis, also known as an intermodal chassis, is a specialty trailer designed to transport containers between terminals, warehouses, and ports. It is made up of a steel frame with tires and axles, and also includes suspension, brakes, and lighting mechanisms. Newer models can come with features such as ABS, weight sensors, LED lights, and GPS tracking systems.

Conventional Truck

A conventional truck, or conventional cab, is a truck or tractor featuring an engine forward of the cab, with a conventional hood configuration. This is a similar design to most passenger cars or pickup trucks, and is the design seen most frequently in North America, Australia and China. The other common truck design–where the cab sits above the front axle (cab-over engine design) is common in Europe.

CSL (Combined Single Limit)

Combined single limit is a commercial trucking insurance term that refers to the maximum amount an insurance company will pay for the combination of bodily injury and property damage per incident.

CPM (Cost per Mile)

Cost per mile is a calculation that examines a carrier’s expenses–including fuel, maintenance, driver and non-driver compensation, insurance and variable expenses–to determine how much it costs to operate and maintain a vehicle or fleet on a per-mile basis. By figuring out the cost per mile, trucking businesses have a detailed view of what expenses are affecting their bottom line. 

Day Cab

A day cab is a semi-truck designed for day trips, and which does not include the on-the-road overnight sleeping features of a sleeper cab. These heavy duty trucks are intended to hook up to a trailer to move large loads within a day's travel or to a location the driver can sleep overnight. Day cabs come in tandem drive axles and single axles. 

Dedicated Route

A dedicated route is an assigned route for a truck driver. Dedicated routes help companies send and receive high volumes of shipments and allow dedicated truck drivers to operate on a predictable schedule. Among drivers, dedicated routes are desirable, so are often assigned to senior or veteran carriers.


If a truck is hauling an empty trailer, it is driving deadhead. Often confused with bobtailing–which means driving with no trailer attached–deadheading is more dangerous than driving with a full trailer, and requires special insurance coverage. Drivers often make deadhead runs after they drop off one load and then travel to pick up their next one but many drivers use load boards to pick up extra loads and avoid making unprofitable, deadhead runs.

DOT Number (Department of Transportation Number)

Any company operating commercial vehicles to transport passengers or cargo in interstate commerce must be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and must have a USDOT Number. The USDOT Number is also required for intrastate drivers who carry hazardous materials. The number serves as a unique identifier for monitoring a company's safety information acquired during audits, compliance reviews, crash investigations, and inspections. A truck needs a DOT number if it:

  • Is used to transport the types and quantities of hazardous materials requiring a safety permit in intrastate commerce 
  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation;

AND is involved in Interstate commerce including trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States:

  • Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States);
  • Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or
  • Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.

Aside from federally required DOT numbers, more than 30 U.S. states require drivers to obtain state-issued DOT numbers for intrastate commerce.

Double Decker

This term refers to any vehicle that has two levels, one deck above the other, for passengers or cargo. A common example of a double decker in trucking is car carrier trailers, which transport cars or other vehicles. 


Drayage refers to the transport of goods over a short distance in the shipping and logistics industries. Some people specifically define drayage as "a truck pickup from or delivery to a seaport, border point, inland port, or intermodal terminal with both the trip origin and destination in the same urban area." Drayage is a key part of the transfer of intermodal shipments from one type of transportation to another. The term drayage is also used for the fee paid for these services. Port drayage is a related term that describes short trips from ports and other areas to nearby locations. Port drayage can also refer to the movement of goods within large structures like convention centers.

Driving Under Own Authority

Trucking authority, which is also called motor carrier authority or operating authority, is the permission granted to a trucking business by the government to accept payment to move freight. Operating authority is issued through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in the form of a Motor Carrier (MC) number. Some owner operators obtain their own operating authority, which technically makes them motor carriers. Others sign on to work exclusively for a motor carrier, which means they drive under that MC’s authority. Drivers in the latter category do not need to obtain their own MC number.

After receiving trucking authority, carriers can operate under their own MC (motor carrier) number and the DOT number assigned by the Department of Transportation. Some carriers obtain more than one type of authority in order to haul various kinds of freight. The types include: 

  • Motor Carrier of Property (except Household Goods) 
  • An authorized for-hire Motor Carrier that transports regulated commodities  
  • Motor Carrier of Household Goods (Moving Companies) 
  • An authorized for-hire Motor Carrier that transports only household goods for the general public in exchange for payment.  
  • United States-based Enterprise Carrier of International Cargo (except Household Goods)  OP-1 Instructions
  • A company that transports international cargo (excluding household goods) and is headquartered in the United States, but is owned or controlled (greater than 55%) by a Mexican citizen or resident alien. International cargo must originate in or be destined for a foreign country. 
  • United States-based Enterprise Carrier of International Household Goods  OP-1 Instructions
  • A company that transports international household goods and is headquartered in the United States, but is owned or controlled (greater than 55%) by a Mexican citizen or resident alien. 

Shippers and brokers also obtain authority from FMCSA to transact business. Truck drivers who do not have authority and an MC number–for example, drivers employed by FedEx or Amazon– drive under their employer’s authority.

Dry Van

A dry van is a type of semi-trailer which is fully enclosed to protect shipments from outside elements. It is designed to carry palletized, boxed, or loose freight. Dry vans are not temperature-controlled like refrigerated “reefer” units and cannot carry oversized shipments like flatbed trailers. They are used for moving non-perishable food and beverages, household goods, clothing, plastic, and building products, and because of their versatility are among the most frequently used equipment types in the trucking industry.

Dump Truck

A dump truck is a truck with an open-box bed with a hinge at the back that is powered by hydraulic rams to lift the front and dump the material in the bed onto the ground behind the truck. Dump trucks are often used to haul coal, dirt, gravel, or demolition waste, and are a common sight at construction sites

EDI (Electronic Data Interchange)

EDI is a secure channel protocol that enables data to be exchanged electronically. Because shippers, carriers, and brokers need  to integrate and exchange information as quickly as possible, EDI has become a requirement in the shipping industry.  EDI allows for the electronic transfer of  the bill of lading, invoices, payments, shipping manifests, and information on the status of shipments.  EDI reduces manual data entry, decreases costs, and eliminates human error.  

ELD (Electronic Logging Device)

An ELD is an electronic logging device that is used by drivers of commercial vehicles to automatically record driving time and Hours of Service records, as well as capture data on the vehicle's engine, movement and miles driven. The ELD is a necessity for most motor carriers and drivers who are required to maintain records of duty status. 

As required by the FMCSA, the following data points are recorded by an ELD at pre-specified intervals:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location details — Vehicle position is recorded in latitude/longitude coordinates. Geo-location information includes the approximate distance and direction to an identifiable location corresponding to the name of a nearby city, town, or village, with a state abbreviation.
  • Engine hours — Engine hours refers to the number of total hours the engine has been running since initially manufactured. This is regardless of whether or not the vehicle is moving.
  • Miles driven
  • Identification information of the driver, motor carrier, and vehicle
  • Engine power status — Engine power status measures the amount of power that an engine can exert, typically expressed by kilowatt or horsepower. 
  • Vehicle motion status
  • Duty status — Duty status records vehicle movement whether the driver is on or off duty.

Tow truck drivers, drivers of vehicles made before 2000 and those not required to maintain records of duty status are exempt from the FMCSA mandate requiring the use of ELDs.

eLog (Electronic Logbook)

An eLog, also called an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) automatically captures data on driver status and replaces paper-based Record of Duty Status reports. The information-gathering is automatic with a connected IoT device that monitors the vehicle. All commercial bus and truck drivers are mandated by FMCSA to install and use an ELD to maintain a record of compliance with the Hours of Services (HOS) rules to improve road safety and prevent driver fatigue.

EOBR (Electronic On-Board Recorder)

Electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) were used to monitor the movements of commercial fleet vehicles and record driving times. One of the early digital recorders, EOBRs were the first alternative to paper logbooks. ELDs, which are less expensive, have replaced EOBRs for many truckers, and help trucking businesses comply with FMCSA mandates on data-gathering.

FAST (Free and Secure Trade for Commercial Vehicle)

The FAST program is a commercial clearance program for shipments known to be low-risk that enter the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. The program allows expedited processing for commercial carriers who have completed background checks and fulfill certain eligibility requirements. FAST enrollment is open to truck drivers from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and was initiated following the 9/11 attacks.

FAST vehicle lanes–the majority of which are located in northern border ports in Michigan, New York and Washington and at southern border ports from California to Texas–process cargo at land border ports of entry that serve commercial cargo. The program requires that every link in the supply chain, from manufacturer to carrier to driver to importer, is certified under the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) program.

Fifth Wheel

The fifth wheel is a component of the fifth wheel coupling, which links a semi-trailer and a towing truck, tractor unit, leading trailer or dolly. The coupling consists of a kingpin, a vertical steel pin protruding from the bottom of the front of the semi-trailer, and a horseshoe-shaped coupling device called a fifth wheel on the rear of the towing vehicle. As the apparatus turns, the downward-facing surface of the semi-trailer (with the kingpin at the center) rotates against the upward-facing surface of the fixed fifth wheel, which does not rotate. To reduce friction, grease is applied to the surface of the fifth wheel. 


A flatbed is a trailer with a flattened hauling platform used to haul everything from building materials and industrial equipment to aircraft parts and mobile homes. Flatbed shipping is transportation for cargo that may not require the enclosure of a dry van, cannot be loaded or unloaded from a dock or does not fit within the dimensions of standard truck trailers. A flatbed's design allows for cranes and forklifts to load goods from all angles.

FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is an agency in the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates the trucking industry in the United States. The primary mission of the FMCSA is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. Established within the Department of Transportation in 2000 pursuant to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, the agency:

  • Develops standards to test and license commercial motor vehicle drivers.
  • Collects and disseminates data on motor carrier safety and directs resources to improve motor carrier safety. 
  • Operates a program to improve safety performance and remove high-risk carriers from the nation's highways.
  • Coordinates research and development to improve the safety of motor carrier operations and commercial motor vehicles and drivers.
  • Provides States with financial assistance for roadside inspections and other commercial motor vehicle safety programs. It promotes motor vehicle and motor carrier safety.

Forced Dispatch

Forced dispatch is the once-common practice of dispatchers forcing or coercing truckers to take loads they are not willing or able to to take. In some cases, loads are forced on drivers through the risk of losing their jobs. The FMCSA has banned forced dispatch. Trucking companies that are found guilty of violating this regulation will face fines up to $16,000. They may also lose their operating authority. Drivers have the legal right to refuse to take a load because they are ill, their vehicle is malfunctioning, they’re up against hours of service regulations, they’re tired, or they’re experiencing another issue that makes it unsafe to drive.

For-hire Carrier

A for-hire carrier is a person or company that provides transportation of cargo or passengers for compensation. With only a few exceptions, for-hire carriers need to obtain a  USDOT Number and Operating Authority, or an MC Number. The US DOT specifies two types of for-hire carriers:

  • Common carrier: These carriers provide for-hire truck transportation to the general public. Common carriers must file both liability insurance and cargo insurance. Trucking companies, shipping firms, bus lines, airlines and rail services fall under the common carrier category.
  • Contract carrier: These carriers provide for-hire truck transportation to specific, individual shippers, based on contracts. These carriers also provide specialized services, for example medical transport and hazardous materials. Contract carriers are not required by law to insure their cargo, unless they are transporting household goods. However, shippers and brokers will usually require that contract carriers add cargo insurance to their liability policies. 

Freight Broker

A freight broker is an intermediary or middleman between a shipper and a carrier. Instead of taking possession of the freight, the broker facilitates communication between the shipper and the carrier. Freight brokers can specialize in certain types of freight, such as equipment hauling on lowboys, oversize, bulk tanker, auto, or other types of freight transportation. Brokers ensure the handoff goes smoothly between carriers and shippers, and that freight arrives safely, on time. Brokers earn revenue in the margin between the amount they charge each shipper–their customer–and what they pay the carrier for every shipment. 

Freight Broker Bonds

Freight Broker Bonds, also called BMC-84 Bonds, Property Broker Bonds, Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) Bonds, or Transportation Broker Bonds are a type of surety bond required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for those operating as transportation brokers in the United States. A surety bond functions as a guarantee that the holder assumes the debt obligation if a borrower defaults on payment. In the trucking industry, BMC-84 surety bonds ensure that a broker will still pay a carrier, even if a shipper declines to pay the broker.

Freight Forwarder

Freight forwarders act as intermediaries between a company making shipments and the final destination for the goods. Although forwarders do not carry out the shipments themselves, they offer different transport modes such as sea/ocean freight, rail freight, road transport and air freight shipment. In addition to moving goods, freight forwarders may store products for their customers. Forwarders have operating authority with the FMCSA in interstate or foreign commerce, and handle international shipments that move from country to country or across multiple countries.

Freight forwarders clear the movement of freight from one country to another, forwarding shipments through the legal requirements in each location, typically shipping freight under their own bills of lading. They also perform assembly and consolidation service. They can book cargo space for customers, often directly with the ocean or air provider, and negotiate rates for transport. 

Freight Broker vs Freight Forwarder

Freight brokers and freight forwarders both arrange for the transportation of freight by connecting shippers and carriers. Brokers usually serve as intermediaries for shippers, finding carriers to transport loads and then tracking loads en route, but never take physical possession of the cargo. Freight forwarders perform a similar function, but offer a range of additional services that brokers do not. These include receiving and storing loads, as well as completing some of the necessary paperwork. Forwarders also consolidate, assemble, and package cargo. Many forwarders offer their own fleet of containers, and perform labeling for international shipments. Forwarders also use their own bills of lading to ship goods, which are called HBLs (house bills of lading). They are legally liable for the goods that are in their possession.

For shippers, it is often more expensive to work with a forwarder than a broker, as brokers generally work with a larger stable of carriers. Brokers also have a reputation for helping carriers optimize their routes to avoid deadhead runs.


Freight Lane

A freight lane, also known as a shipping lane or trucking lane, is any route that a carrier covers on a regular schedule. These lanes can connect multiple cities or transport hubs. They can be direct point-to-point, connect multiple points in any shape, or travel in any direction. Some carriers only operate within a fixed region of the country where they have established freight lanes. Some national carriers establish freight lanes that operate within defined regions, as well as long haul lanes that go nationwide. The benefits of dedicated shipping lanes for the operations of transportation intermediaries and carriers are reduced waste and more cost-effective shipping solutions. 

FTL (Full Truckload)

FTL shipments fill most to all of an entire truck and tend to be larger shipments, often weighing 20,000 pounds or more. FTL shipments stay on the same truck and are not transferred during transport, so there is less risk of damage to the cargo. This method of transportation is also faster than LTL, or less-than-truckload shipping, since only one shipment is on board and there will not be multiple stops along the way. FTL is considered helpful for shipping expensive or perishable cargo that mandates minimal handling and/or fast transportation. Shippers use FTL when they need certainty that there will be minimal disruptions on the shipping route.

GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating)

GAWR refers to the maximum distributed weight the axle of a vehicle can support. It is determined by weighing the front end and rear end of the vehicle separately once fully loaded with fuel, passengers and cargo. Safety is the main reason manufacturers place a limit on how much weight each axle can carry. Overloading a vehicle or trailer is dangerous. 

GCW (Gross Combination Weight)

GCW is the actual weight of a vehicle when it is fully loaded along with the weight of the trailer and any cargo it may be hauling. The GCW should always be less than the GCWR, which is the manufacturer’s specified maximum GCW.

GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating)

GCWR is the manufacturer’s specified maximum loaded weight of a truck/tractor plus the trailer or semi-trailer designed for use with the truck tractor. Vehicles get a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) based on how much combined weight they can transport. GCWR can often be found in a truck’s owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s online towing guide. Determining a vehicle’s combined gross vehicle weight (CGVW) is done by adding the weight of the power unit and the total weight of the towed unit and any load it is carrying. This is done at a certified scale at a truck stop, where its current, actual weight can be compared with its weight rating. 


Also known as a speed governor or speed limiter, governors are devices that limit a vehicle's speed using the engine's computer and electronic sensors. When the truck reaches a specified maximum speed, sensors will tell the internal computer to keep the truck from going faster. Fuel conservation efforts have caused some fleets to voluntarily install governors on their rigs. The American Trucking Associations has voiced support for 68-mph speed-limiters on all new heavy trucks. Typically there are three types of governor that can be fitted to modern diesel engines: mechanical, electronic, and Electronic Control Units (ECU). 

GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight)

GWV is the actual weight of a vehicle when fully loaded. Unlike GCWR – which refers to the maximum weight a vehicle is able to carry – GVW refers to the actual amount any given truck is carrying at any given time. The term is sometimes confused with GVWR, which is the maximum gross weight rating established by the manufacturer. GVW refers to the total weight of the truck and payload at a given point in time.

GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating)

A truck’s gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR, is a weight rating that applies to vehicles that fall into certain categories, from pick-up trucks to semis. It refers to the maximum amount a vehicle can weigh safely. The rating is an important safety element for personal and commercial trucks. In general, GVWR is broken down into one rating classification compiled of two separate elements:

  1. the base curb weight of the vehicle, plus:
  1. the weight of optional truck accessories, the weight of the cargo, and the weight of the driver and passenger(s).

While vehicle manufacturers specify a weight rating, the Federal Highway Administration has its own weight limits applying to interstate highways, and irrespective of vehicle type:

  • Single Axle: 20,000 pounds
  • Tandem Axle: 34,000 pounds
  • Gross vehicle weight: 80,000 pounds


While GVWR deals solely with the powered unit, such as a semi-tractor or pickup truck, GCWR also includes the weight of a trailer and any cargo it is carrying.

Hazmat (Hazardous Materials)

The Department of Transportation (DOT) defines hazardous materials as “a substance or material that the Secretary of Transportation has determined is capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce, and has been so designated.” This includes hazardous substances, hazardous wastes, marine pollutants, and elevated temperature materials. Common examples of DOT hazardous material include:

  • Class 1: Explosives
  • Class 2: Gasses
  • Class 3: Flammable liquids
  • Class 4: Flammable solids
  • Class 5: Oxidizers/organic peroxides
  • Class 6: Toxic and infectious substances
  • Division 6.1- poisonous material
  • Division 6.2- infectious substance
  • Class 7: Radioactive material
  • Class 8: Corrosives
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous hazardous materials

Driving loads of hazardous materials affects the licenses the trucking company will need as well as the insurance policies it will need to obtain.

Headache Rack

A headache rack is a rack that covers the rear window of a truck’s cab to prevent goods from breaking the window or otherwise damaging the back of the cab. The equipment also helps prevent break-ins through that window of the cab. Headache racks are a common accessory for pickup trucks used in commercial operations.

Hours of Service

Hours of service is a safety measure used to ensure that truckers are rested and alert. The FMCSA mandates that drivers carrying property may drive a maximum of 11 hours during a 14-hour period after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and that drivers carrying passengers may drive a maximum of 10 hours during a 15-hour period after 8 consecutive hours off duty. Drivers must take a mandatory 30-minute break by their eighth hour of coming on duty. The agency in 2020 passed several revisions to the rule meant to cover special circumstances.

Hot Shot Trucking

Hot shot trucking, or hotshot trucking, means hauling smaller, time-sensitive LTL (less than truckload) loads within a certain timeframe and usually to a single location. Such loads are usually delivered using medium-duty trucks that pull flatbed trailers. Hot shot truckers usually have experience transporting various load types and the necessary equipment to do so. Hot shot loads can be attractive jobs because they pay decent rates, especially if a company needs a piece of equipment delivered quickly to avoid a loss in productivity.

Hot shot trucks typically fall under Class 3 (weight limit of 10,001-14,000 pounds), Class 4 (weight limit of 14,001-16,000 pounds), or Class 5 (weight limit of 16,001-19,500 pounds).

Independent Contractor

Independent contractors in the trucking industry are self-employed, as opposed to being company drivers. They often own their own trucks and equipment, making them owner operators, though some contractors lease their trucks. While every owner operator is an independent contractor, not all independent contractors are owners. Some lease equipment from an employer or another company.  About 11 percent of truck drivers nationwide were self-employed as of 2019, with about 9 percent being owner operators. 


Intermodal shipping means moving freight by two or more modes of transportation. By loading cargo into intermodal containers, shipments can move seamlessly between trucks, trains and cargo ships. Intermodal shipments fall into one of two categories: international intermodal or domestic intermodal.


This term refers to a truck accident where a truck with a cab and a trailer folds in on itself at the point of separation. The cab and trailer swivel where they are linked together, forming a 90-degree angle “V” shape.

LCV (Long Combination Vehicle)

LCV configurations are where multiple trailers are pulled with one truck. The purpose of this type of trucking is to either haul more or various types of cargo. LCVs are allowed by a grandfather clause only in states where they were in operation before June 1, 1991.

The FMCSA has established standards for mandatory training requirements for the operators of LCVs and requirements for the instructors who train these operators.


A logbook is a paper record for truckers to record their duty hours, driving hours, and time spent in a sleeper berth. Keeping such records is required by the FMCSA for safety reasons, and is also company policy for many trucking companies. The Department of Transportation several years ago mandated that paper logs be replaced by electronic logging devices (ELDs), as paper logs can be altered by drivers. The rule exempts short-haul drivers who use time cards and drivers of vehicles made before 2000.


A lowboy, also known as a double drop, low loader, low-bed, or a float, is a specialized trailer designed to carry heavy or oversize loads. They are often used to carry construction equipment and heavy machinery. A lowboy differs from a standard flatbed trailer because it sits very low to the ground, which allows loads too tall for a standard flatbed. In most cases, a tri-axle semi-trailer truck is used to haul a lowboy trailer. 

LTL (Less-Than-Truck-Load)

LTL freight is the transportation of goods that do not require a full truckload. These smaller freight loads mean one truck can carry many separate shipments. LTL shipments are usually arranged on pallets and range anywhere from 150 pounds to 15,000 pounds. When shipping LTL, the shipper pays for the portion of a standard truck trailer their freight occupies, while other shippers and their shipments fill the unoccupied space. 

Carriers can specialize in either full truckload (FTL) or less-than-truckload (LTL) runs. LTL carriers often handle freight above what would normally ship via FedEx Ground, or UPS. LTL carriers use "hub and spoke" operations where truck routes represent the spokes and service terminals, or distribution centers, are the hubs.

MC Number (Motor Carrier Number)

A motor carrier number is issued by the FMCSA and represents Operating Authority, or the necessary registration for interstate for-hire motor carriers and brokers. Companies need both a USDOT Number and an MC Number if they:

  • Operate as for-hire carriers (for a fee or other compensation)
  • Transport passengers, or arrange for their transport, in interstate commerce
  • Transport federally regulated commodities or arrange for their transport, in interstate commerce

Owner operators under permanent lease to a motor carrier can simply operate under that motor carrier’s MC number, but independent owner operators not operating under a permanent lease will need to obtain their own through FMCSA. Unlike the USDOT Number application process, a trucking business may need to obtain multiple types of operating authority for different business operations. Different types of authority are needed, for example, for brokers or carriers of household goods, for drivers who cross international borders, and for drivers who carry passengers vs. freight.

Motor Carrier

Motor carrier is the term for a business that transports passengers or property for compensation. Most commercial truck drivers need a Commercial Drivers License, which is obtained through the FMCSA. For-hire carriers also need to obtain Operating Authority from the agency, which provides trucking businesses with a DOT Number and an MC Number. Some private carriers, independent contractors working under another entity’s authority, and for-hire carriers hauling exempt commodities do not need Operating Authority.

OTR (Over-The-Road Trucking)

OTR is another term for long-haul trucking. Many newcomers to the industry start out as OTR drivers, later transitioning to driving local routes. An OTR trucker may spend 3-4 weeks at a time on the road, sleeping in either the truck’s cabin or at hotels and motels along the way. Two-person OTR teams sometimes operate in shifts to get goods across the country in just a few days.

Owner Operator

In trucking, this term describes someone who owns and operates an independent trucking business. The vast majority of owner operators own one or more semi-trucks, but some lease trucks from other companies. Most also own their own trailers, but those who do not are referred to as “power only” owner operators. Most owner operators are under a permanent lease to a motor carrier that provides them with liability, loads, cargo insurance, and regulation insurance but there are technically two types of owner operators in the trucking industry, including:

  • Independent Owner Operators: These owner operators have their own operating authority, which makes them motor carriers. Independent owner operators have the freedom to haul the freight of their choosing.
  • Leased Owner Operators: These are owner operators leased to a motor carrier, which has operating authority. In many cases, the motor carrier pays for insurance and other costs but the owner operator often has the freedom to choose their own freight. A leased owner operator is different from a leased operator, also known as a lease-purchase driver. These are independent contractors–not owners–who have entered a lease to purchase agreement with a motor carrier. Most in the industry advise against these arrangements.

OBDII (On-Board Diagnostic II)

OBDII is the second generation of on-board self-diagnostic equipment that monitors emissions from light- and medium-duty vehicles. The diagnostic is incorporated into the hardware and software of a vehicle's on-board computer to monitor virtually every component that can affect emission performance. The system will also store important information about any detected malfunction so that a repair technician can accurately find and fix the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency requires trucks to have OBDII devices, which replaced OBDI devices in the 1990s. California has slightly different OBD requirements than other states.


A vehicle’s payload capacity is the maximum amount of weight it can safely carry. For trucks, it consists of all of the weight in the cabin and bed. If a truck is pulling a trailer, the payload also includes the weight of the trailer pushing down on the trailer hitch — referred to as tongue weight. Whereas towing capacity refers to the amount of weight a truck can pull, payload capacity is the amount of weight a vehicle can carry. Automakers often refer to carrying weight in the bed of a truck as hauling to distinguish it from carrying weight in a trailer or towing.

Pilot Car

A pilot car, also known as an escort car or guide car, serves as an escort to an oversize truckload to make sure the truck reaches its destination safely. The pilot driver travels in front of or behind the truck in a separate vehicle, warning the public if there are traffic changes or obstacles due to the truckload. Oversized loads frequently have a pilot car. Drivers who serve in this role must:

  • Be 18 years old in some states, and 21 in others
  • Have a valid driver's license
  • Have taken a defensive driving course or hold a class A, B, or C commercial driver license
  • Carry vehicle liability insurance
  • Speak English

Pintle Hook

A pintle hook, also called a pintle hitch, is a mechanical device used to couple wheeled equipment together to enable towing. Pintle hooks have three distinct parts: A frame called the body, a pivoting latch that gives access to the body, and a positive locking pin that secures the latch in the closed position. Pintle hooks are often used for more heavy-duty towing jobs, including for agricultural, military, and industrial uses. The hitches allow a greater range of movement that is well-suited for off-road towing.

PRISM (Performance and Registration Information Systems Management)

PRISM is a part of the FMCSA’s mission to reduce the number of commercial motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and fatalities by giving states a safety mechanism to identify and immobilize motor carriers with safety deficiencies and hold them accountable. State commercial motor vehicle registration agencies upload registration data to the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) database daily, which allows FMCSA to link the motor carrier’s safety fitness to their vehicle registration. The FMCSA displays the participation levels of states in the PRISM program.

Private Carrier

A private carrier is a company that owns the vehicles or fleets used to transport its own goods. and does not transport the goods of other companies like a for-hire carrier. While a private motor carrier is required to have a USDOT number, they do not need an MC number or operating authority. Some private carriers do use contract carriers in certain situations, such as when a large amount of goods needs to be shipped and all its fleet vehicles are in use. 

PSI (Pounds per Square Inch)

PSI refers to units of pressure or stress being applied to an area or surface per an area of one square inch. This is the main metric for tires as it’s the most accurate way of knowing how inflated a tire is. Determining the right PSI for any truck comes down to:

  • The size of the tires
  • Whether they are ‘steer’ or ‘drive’ tires
  • How much weight the truck is carrying
  • The brand of tire
  • Temperature and weather conditions

PTDI (Professional Truck Driver Institute)

The Professional Truck Driver Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides certification of training courses for drivers of commercial motor vehicles. It was formed in 1986 during the standardization of commercial driver's licensing by the FMCSA in the United States. It is the first nonprofit organization to develop uniform skill performance, curriculum, and certification standards for the trucking industry and to award course certification to entry-level truck driver training courses and motor carrier driver-finishing programs.

Pup Trailer

A pup trailer is a small trailer–usually between 26 to 28 feet–that is commonly pulled in singles or triples. Pup trailers can come with a single axle, two axles or a tri-axle, and are mainly used to transport soil, construction debris and sand. They are often used in LTL trucking.

There are two primary categories of pup trailers: 

  1. A pup trailer is referred to as dead when it features no power source, such as a pneumatic motor or hydraulic system. Hence, it relies on the power of the truck pulling it. 
  2. A pup trailer is called live when it features its own hydraulic cylinders, independent of the truck's power supply. 


A receiver acts as the counterpart to a shipper on the receiving end of the supply chain. The receiver–often a local distribution center or a company that specializes in receiving shipments– is responsible for all aspects of receiving inbound freight. Receivers move cargo off of trucks, inspect shipments and add them to inventory, completing the freight-shipping process. 


A reefer is a refrigerated trailer that can be attached to a semi-truck to transport perishables and other temperature-sensitive goods. Reefer units have insulated walls, and maintain a steady temperature by collecting, pumping, and removing heat from the trailer. Cooling for a reefer container is achieved through different methods, which can include:

  • Diesel-powered generators, which attach to the container being pulled
  • Cryogenic cooling, which melts frozen carbon dioxide ice to keep contents cool

Refrigerated trucking is the reason fresh produce, meat, and other perishable goods can be transported over long distances without spoiling.


Relay trucking, also called swapping, is a system where drivers change over after covering a set distance. Two carriers meet with their loads at a halfway point set up by a dispatcher. The drivers then swap trailers at the meeting point and turn around and head to their home terminals with the new load, taking it closer to its final destination. Companies like FedEx and UPS specialize in relay trucking. As with a relay race, one participant covers a certain distance, then hands off the remainder to another.

Runaway Ramp

A runaway ramp, also called a truck escape ramp or runaway truck lane, is a designated traffic emergency spot for trucks having problems braking. The ramp is often placed near a steep, downhill grade, and is laid with gravel or sand to slow the momentum of the truck. The ramps are often found in mountainous areas.


A shipper, also known as a consignor, is the company or person responsible for organizing and transporting goods from one point to another. The shipper is named in the bill of lading as the party responsible for initiating a shipment. For shipping on land, the shipper uses carriers to haul the goods. 

Spot Rate

A spot rate, or spot quote, is a one-time fee a shipper pays to a carrier to move a load of goods at current market prices. Spot rates are a form of short-term freight pricing that reflects carrier supply and shipper demand in the market in real time.

Terminal Tractor

A terminal tractor, also called a shunt truck, spotter truck, spotting tractor, yard truck, yard shifter, or yard dog, is a type of semi-tractor used to move semi-trailers within a cargo yard, warehouse facility, or intermodal facility. Most have a top speed of about 25 mph. Terminal tractors generally include:

  • A one-seat cab at the side of the engine
  • A sliding rear door for easy access to trailer connections
  • A short wheelbase with a solidly mounted rear axle
  • A low-power diesel, alternative fuel engine, or electric motor with an automatic transmission
  • A fifth-wheel coupling with an integrated lifting mechanism allows the semi-trailer's legs to remain in the lowered position during movement
  • A rear window 

TOFC (Trailer on Flatcar)

Trailer on flatcar is the term for rail freight service where a trailer together with its container are loaded on a train’s flatcar. TOFC is similar to Container on Flatcar (COFC) except that COFC does not include the trailer that the container is loaded directly on the flatcar.


A tractor unit, also called a big rig, semi-tractor, semi-truck, is a heavy-duty towing engine that provides power for hauling a towed or trailered load of goods. As opposed to a truck–which can haul goods without a trailer–tractor units attach to various kinds of trailers that can be loaded with cargo. Tractors fall into two categories:

  1.  Heavy- and medium-duty commercial or military rear-wheel-drive semi-tractors used for hauling semi-trailers.
  2. Very heavy-duty, off-road-capable, often six-wheel drive military and commercial tractor units.

Most tractors have large displacement diesel engines, several axles; and a transmission with 10, 13, or 18 gears to handle various terrain. A tractor unit can have many axles, with the most common drivetrain varieties being the 4×2, 6×2, and 6×4 types.

The two most widely used cab configurations for tractors are:

  1. The conventional configuration with an engine and hood over the front axle in front of the cab, just as with a car. This style is ubiquitous in America.
  2. The cab-over-engine, or cab-forward configuration, has a flat nose cab with the driver sitting in front of the front axle. Widely used in the EU and Japan, this style has the advantages of good vision and maneuverability and shorter cab length, at the expense of driver safety in case of an accident. 


Tractor Trailer

A tractor trailer, also known as an 18-wheeler, is the combination of a tractor unit and one or more semi-trailers that are attached and used to carry freight. A semi-trailer attaches to the tractor with a hitch called a fifth wheel. Whereas the terms truck and semi-truck refer to the tractor unit, the term tractor trailer refers to the combination of the tractor and the trailer.

TSE (Truck Stop Electrification)

TSE refers to the ability to connect a truck to a land-based electric power supply at a truck stop. TSE eliminates the need for engine idling while parked, and in some cases can also supply land-based climate control within the truck cab, as well as Internet and TV access. Land-based power may come from grid power from an electric utility or an external remote generator. These generators may be powered by diesel or renewable energy sources. TSE saves on fuel that would otherwise be used to power vehicles when they are not being driven.

VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)

The VIN, also called a chassis number or a frame number, is a unique 17-character code made up of numbers and capital letters that identifies motorized vehicles, including cars and trucks. No two vehicles in operation have the same VIN. The VIN reveals the vehicle's unique features, specifications, and manufacturer.

WIM (Weight in Motion)

WIM systems are sensor arrays used by regulatory agencies to measure the overall weight of vehicles while they are being driven so that overweight vehicles on highways can be penalized. WIM systems collect data for each vehicle that passes over the sensors, which are embedded in pavement, and allows underweight vehicles to bypass weigh stations. Data obtained by WIM systems includes:

  • Single or dual tire loads
  • Per-axle load
  • Gross vehicle weights

WIM systems also collect other data that is helpful for planning, design, freight studies, enforcement, and truck weight and size studies.

Traffic and vehicle data includes:

  • The number of vehicles using the roadway or traffic volumes
  • Axle spacing
  • Vehicle sizes
  • Vehicle speeds

Yard Jockey / Yard Dog

Yard jockey and yard dog are other terms for terminal tractors, which are used to move semi-trailers within a cargo yard, warehouse facility, or intermodal facility.

3PL (Third-party Logistics)

Third-party logistics is the outsourcing of transportation or logistics services. 3PL is an umbrella term for many freight-related business practices, and is also used to refer to the companies who provide third-party logistics services. There are several core functions that are common among 3PLs, although not every 3PL provides all of them:

  • Transportation Management: A 3PL can manage all of a client company’s transportation functions. This requires a complete understanding of a client’s shipping, demand cycle and supply chain. The 3PL can optimize loads, identify efficiencies, forecast freight fluctuations and reduce transportation costs. The 3PL can also audit freight performance, provide greater visibility to a client’s supply chain, and make it easier to spot overspending, delays and other inefficiencies.
  • Warehousing: Some 3PLs have their own warehousing facilities, so they can help clients with storage and order fulfillment. 
  • Asset-Based Services: Some 3PLs use their own trucks and equipment to provide transportation services. These companies are known as asset-based 3PLs. Global Transportation
  • Financial and Information Technology: 3PLs that use Transportation Management Software can help optimize a logistics network through freight auditing, accounting, and constantly monitoring load movements and inventory.
About the author
Scott Elgin of Elgin Trucking &
Scott Elgin has been in the trucking business since 1982, acting as both a motor carrier and a freight agent at Elgin Trucking Co. During this time, he has overseen thousands of units servicing the entire continental United States.

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