How Long-Haul Trucking Works

published on July 13, 2020

This video was made possible by ExpressVPN Start browsing the web securely with three months free by going to expressvpncom/wendover When you think of freight transport, the image in your head might include massive container ships, or mile-long trains, or enormous cargo planes, but more than each of those, the transportation method that carries the vast majority of the world’s freight is trucks In most places, it’s not even close—by value, they carry 73% of the US’ domestic freight

It is truly trucks that connect the world, more than anything else Trucking fills a lot of roles from just daily deliveries to urban households all the way to cross-country treks bringing goods from manufacturer to consumer It is that form, though—long-haul, over-the-road trucking—that is most elusive These trucks are visible on the highways of any country, but the infrastructure supporting this transportation system hides in plain sight

When on the road, long-haul truckers live and work in their trucks Of course their job is centered around sitting behind the wheel, but the section behind that is where they live Drivers are only allowed to drive a certain number of hours at a time—in the US, it’s 11, in Europe, it’s 9, and in the rest of the world it’s something similar to those two

Therefore, they need the facilities to live, rest, and recreate when off the road in the remaining hours of the day Most trucks have a cab just large enough for a bed, TV, microwave, and a few other small appliances They are typically intentionally minimalistic because there is a trade-off between the size and weight of the cab and how much freight can be hauled

This truly is a trade-off for the drivers, mostly, as a big proportion of them in places like the US actually own their truck themselves and work for companies on a freelance basis That means they could decide to buy a rig with a larger, more comfortable cab, but that could make them less capable of hauling heavier loads, which means less money Trucks are weight-restricted mostly to keep the roads in decent condition The greater the weight, the greater the impact

In the US, this maximum weight varies widely On most highways it’s 80,000 pounds or 36,000 kilograms, but this varies from state to state all the way up to 164,000 pounds or 75,000 kilograms in Michigan Considering this variance, states will typically have weigh stations near their borders on major highways, as well as some spread out throughout the state All trucks, except for some that have electric systems allowing them to bypass, are required

To pull off onto massive scales to assure they’re complying with the rules Using this opportunity, though, many weigh stations have become far more technologically advanced to assure safety and compliance For example, thermal cameras will take an image of the wheels to assure the breaks are working properly—if they’re too cold, that could mean the breaks are not engaging, if they’re too hot, that could mean they’re engaging too much, in comparison to the other

Breaks So, the weight issue, though, is why the average rig looks just like this—a compact cab with just the bare minimum of comforts The trade-off means that larger, extended sleepers are only common with, for example, long-haul moving trucks, which, due to the low weight and density of the carried goods, rarely have an issue with weight limits

So, given that most trucks look like this, with just the bare bones of comforts, most of the facilities truckers need are located in the places where they sleep—truck stops These dot large countries like the US with remarkable frequency, centered primarily along highways and other common trucking routes They might look like large gas stations, but they offer far more Truck cabs typically don’t have bathrooms or showers, so they almost always have those

They also don’t have laundry facilities, so truck stops often have those Some will also have banks, barbers, chiropractors, dentists, dog groomers, and more This is all because, once truckers are on the road, they’re in the system, and they can’t really leave it until they’re back at their origin One can’t just drive into a city and park to do some shopping in a semi-truck, both practically and, in some cases, legally

While truckers might travel more miles in a year than anyone else, the world, for them, while on the job, is limited to the roads, truck-stops, and few other facilities catering to them That’s why services like dentists at truck stops are far from novelties They’re crucial fixtures of a life on the road Truck drivers only make money when they’re moving

Overwhelmingly, they are paid per mile meaning the time during which they are legally mandated to rest is unpaid Not only that, but time off actually loses money The whole game is an economic puzzle Trucks need power to run AC, heat, or electronics while stationary—all of which drivers typically need when they’re stopped

Therefore, often, drivers leave their trucks idling overnight which burns about 08 gallons or 3 liters of diesel per hour At current prices, a 10-hour overnight stop would burn about $20 of diesel which, multiplied by hundreds of nights per year per driver, is a significant cost and an even greater environmental burden In addition, this idling adds wear and tear to the engine, and counts against a truck’s

Warranty Until recently, there really wasn’t an alternative, except for sleeping without AC or heat, but under increased pressure to improve its environmental footprint, the trucking industry has implemented innovations such as auxiliary power units—smaller, more efficient generators—electric plug-ins at truck stops, or even ducts installed to the windows when stopped to provide climate control

This economic calculation extends beyond stops It also deals with optimizing the miles covered while following the laws In the US, the rule is that one can drive up to 11 hours, over an overall period of 14 hours, and then must rest for 10 hours Assuming an average speed of 60 miles per hour, that means a truck can essentially travel 660 miles per day

Therefore, a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to New York would take about four and a half days The drivers themselves are paid per mile so all they want to do is maximize their speed during the 11 hours of daily driving time The consumer, though—whoever’s paying for the transport of the product in the back—cares about how fast it gets to them overall

Therefore, truckers have devised a system to move freight faster The rules just say that drivers have to rest for ten hours in their cab—it doesn’t say that the trucks have to be stationary Drivers will therefore team up so that while one drives, the other sleeps, and vice versa A team of drivers, which is often made up of a married couple, can therefore drive 22 hours per day, covering 1,320 miles

That means that they could make the Los Angeles to New York trip in just two days Consumers will pay a premium for the speed, and therefore trucking companies will pay more per mile In addition, having less stopped time means that the truck, which costs quite a lot, is being used more efficiently This team system is all-around a win for everyone, assuming one can find a pair of people that

Will tolerate spending their lives cooped up in a truck cab together Truckers, almost certainly, are a dying breed, though The future of freight transport will undoubtably center around self-driving trucks and the technology for these is very close to ready for prime-time Right now, multiple companies are at the point where their trucks are traveling autonomously, with drivers behind the wheel to intervene if needed

These are essentially autopilot systems, similar to Tesla’s, that aid the driver and reduce fatigue Soon, though, with more proven technology and legal authority to do so, this will likely advance to autonomous convoys In this system, one driver would sit behind the wheel of a lead truck, which might also drive autonomously, and then a series of autonomous, human-less trucks would follow behind

This way, there is still a human that can assist with mechanical issues or unforeseen road conditions, but the freight to driver ratio increases dramatically This will, of course, reduce the number of truckers needed, but then, after this phase, the industry will undoubtably advance to fully autonomous trucks At first, this will likely just be on dedicated routes—for example, a company might deploy these on uncomplicated routes from one warehouse to another, both being close to a highway

Autonomous driving on highways is relatively easy since roads conditions are standardized and predictable Autonomous city driving is much more complicated, so human drivers might still be needed for the start and end of journeys What fully autonomous driving could do, though, is allow a truck to continue moving on the highway while a driver rests in the back, allowing essentially continuous driving without

Having to deal with working hour limits This, along with a convoy system, could increase the cost efficiency of trucking dramatically, as the human drivers represent a significant cost An average trucker’s pay is about 35 cents per mile, meaning that cutting out that cost entirely would reduce the cost of a Los Angeles to New York trip, for example, by almost $1,000 It is for this reason why so many companies are pursuing autonomous trucks

Of course, the other major cost in trucking is fuel, so companies are also trying to innovate in that space Concurrent to the deployment of autonomous trucks is a likely shift into the use of electric trucks Tesla, for example, is developing its own semi truck They claim its energy consumption will be about two kilowatt hours per mile

The US’ average energy cost is about 10 cents per kilowatt hour, which translates to an energy cost of about 20 cents per mile Typical internal combustion semi-trucks have an efficiency of about 6 miles per gallon so, at current diesel prices, that would translate to a cost of about 40 cents per mile Halving a trucking company’s energy prices is certainly an intriguing proposition, which is why many consider the Tesla semi so promising

At those prices, if a truck goes driverless, meaning no salary costs, the variable cost of a cross-country, Los Angeles to New York run would be just $550 To be able to haul tens of thousands of pounds of goods from door to door across the country for just hundreds of dollars would result in a paradigm shift in the freight world There are certainly disadvantages, such as the high battery pack weight that reduces cargo capacity, but it is clear that electric trucks will play some role in the industry

Regardless in the near future This role will likely be concentrated in shorter routes, rather than long-haul ones, but this is still a significant enough subset of the industry that electric trucks have the potential for significant disruption Right now, there is an strange duality where truckers are so crucial the running of a modern economy that the world is working to replace them

We can’t live without them right now, so we’re finding a way to In the future, though, the job of a trucker will undoubtably be another victim of an increasingly modernized world Another aspect of an increasingly modernized world is clearly more people working from home and with that, it’s more important than ever to be sure that you’re using the internet securely

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