Glossary of Trucking Industry Terminology
Every career comes with its own unique set of acronyms and terminology that those new to the industry must learn, and trucking is no exception.
In fact, the blend of high-tech equipment, regulatory oversight, and driver-to-driver communication in the trucking industry means there’s an abundance of terms to learn—and getting the hang of the lingo can feel like navigating an entirely new language.
Below are some of the most common terms used in trucking today, along with a handy cheat sheet of CB radio slang to help get you talking like a seasoned truck driver in no time!
Common Trucking Terms
ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System)
A braking system that helps truckers maintain control on wet, icy, and snowy roads and in heavy braking conditions by preventing wheels from locking up and skidding.
Tractor-trailers, buses, and other heavy trucks use compressed air instead of hydraulic fluid to operate the brakes. Operating a vehicle with air brakes requires an air brake CDL endorsement.
Any freight that is shipped in part or entirely by air.
Trucking carriers must obtain operating authority from the U.S. Department of Transportation to legally transport passengers or commodities.
A shipper’s pre-approved transportation provider. Many companies have lists of authorized carriers they work with.
Auxiliary Power Unit (APU)
An auxiliary power unit (APU) is a small motor used to run a truck’s air, heat, and interior appliances without the truck having to idle and waste fuel. APUs can be battery-powered or run on natural gas, diesel, or propane.
A shaft or rod that supports the truck’s weight and rotates the wheels; 18-wheel trucks generally have five axles.
The backhaul is the return load truckers haul back to their home area or the company’s terminal, rather than returning empty.
Used in tankers, baffles are dividers or bulkheads with holes to help control sloshing and front-to-back liquid surges for liquid cargo.
Any type of freight that is very light but bulky or takes up a lot of space.
Also called a sleeper berth or bunk, a berth is the sleeping compartment behind the cab in a truck.
Bill of Lading
A document providing the details of a shipment, including an itemized list of goods and pickup and delivery dates.
Blind spots are any areas around the truck that aren’t visible to the driver through mirrors, windshields, or windows.
A tractor that’s operating without a trailer.
Freight that is shipped in bulk, not in containers or packages. Bulk freight includes coal, grain, and petroleum products.
A solid divider or wall-like structure placed between the tractor and trailer that protects the driver from shifting cargo.
Also called a cab-over-engine (COE), a cabover is a type of truck where the cab sits directly over the engine.
The total weight of gear, supplies, and cargo on a vehicle.
A trucking company or owner operator that provides transportation services for shippers.
A trucking carrier that provides local pickup and delivery services, often within one commercial area or town.
Citizen Band (CB) radios are two-way radios truckers use to communicate with each other.
A commercial driver’s license (CDL) enables drivers to operate trucks and buses that weigh more than 26,000 pounds.
A Class A CDL is for any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of more than 26,000 pounds, pulling a trailer that weighs more than 10,000 pounds.
A Class CDL B covers vehicles towing a trailer weighing 10,000 pounds or less or vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds that don’t have a detachable trailer.
This Class is for vehicles that don’t meet Class A or Class B definitions and are designed to transport 16 or more passengers or are placarded to transport hazmat.
Courier, express, and parcel (CEP) refers to the services needed to deliver non-palletized goods via land, airways, and water. FedEx, UPS, and USPS are the main CEP delivery providers in the U.S.
The frame of a truck or commercial vehicle to which everything else (engine, transmission, fuel tanks, axles, cargo compartments, etc.) attaches.
Requirements vary by state, but a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) generally allows new drivers to operate a commercial vehicle under the supervision of a CDL holder.
A vehicle that includes at least one tractor and one trailer.
Commercial Motor Vehicle
Any towed or self-propelled motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport property or passengers.
A trucking carrier that transports freight or people and works for any customer that pays the fee, as opposed to private carriers that work with one customer.
A driver hired as an employee to operate company-owned equipment. Company drivers are paid per mile, per hour, or via a flat rate.
When trucking companies provide aspiring truck drivers with CDL training (usually free of charge or at a lower cost than other programs) in exchange for working for a pre-determined amount of time after earning their CDL.
A standard-sized rectangular box used to ship freight by rail, ship, and truck. Domestic containers are 53 feet long, and international containers are 20 to 40 feet long.
The process of connecting a tractor to a trailer or a trailer to another trailer.
A flatbed trailer with side kit walls installed and metal bows and a tarp over the top, resembling a covered wagon.
Cents per mile (CPM) is the per-mile rate truck drivers earn for driving.
CSA (compliance, safety, accountability)
As the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association’s (FMCSA) safety and compliance program, CSA holds drivers and carriers responsible for safety on America’s roads.
The Drive-a-Check (DAC) report is a file containing a truck driver’s history, including CDL and endorsement information, employment history, traffic violations, types of freight hauled, drug test results, and driving performance records.
A tractor that doesn’t have a sleeper berth, often used for local routes that don’t require overnight stays.
A deadhead is a truck with an empty trailer—deadheading is the process of driving an empty trailer, often to pick up a load.
A dedicated route is when a truck driver travels the same daily route, usually with a predictable schedule, the same customers, and ample home time.
A trucking carrier employee who acts as the main line of communication between truck drivers and the company.
Docks, located at warehouses, distribution centers, and terminals, are where trucks park to load and unload cargo.
Established by Congress in 1966, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sets transportation safety regulations.
Also referred to as twins or twin trailers, doubles are combination vehicles that consist of one tractor and two trailers.
The transportation of goods over a short distance—such as from a rail yard to a warehouse—as part of a longer trip.
When a truck driver drops a trailer off at a loading dock and hooks up to and leaves with another fully loaded trailer without having to wait for the first trailer to be unloaded.
Any freight that doesn’t require refrigeration or climate control.
A non-temperature controlled enclosed trailer used to ship a variety of common goods.
The Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the electronic exchange of business documents that enables business partners to share transportation-related documents.
Required by the FMCSA on commercial motor vehicles, an electronic logging device (ELD) records information about a truck’s movement, including hours of service, location, and miles driven, and transmits it to fleet management software.
CDL add-ons that enable drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles under specific situations and for certain purposes, including doubles/triples, hazmat, and school bus driving.
The process of shipping time-sensitive freight, often with pre-determined delivery dates and deadlines.
Tractors and trailers are connected via a fifth wheel, a coupling device that hooks to the trailer’s kingpin to support the front of the trailer.
An open trailer used to transport large or oddly shaped freight that wouldn’t fit in a traditional enclosed trailer.
Part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the trucking industry in the United States.
When a carrier forces a driver to transport a load against their will by threatening various consequences, such as being fired or not getting consistent work.
A machine with prongs (“forks”) that loads and unloads pallets from commercial trucks.
Any cargo transported by commercial means—whether by air, rail, ship, or truck.
The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) is the maximum weight of a vehicle and its attached trailer.
A trailer that attaches to a truck via a long “neck” to the back of a truck or trailer. Many goosenecks are flatbed trailers that carry large equipment.
Describes the amount of incline or steepness of a hill and is often expressed as a percentage (e.g., 5% grade).
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum weight of a given vehicle fully loaded with occupants and cargo, not including trailers or other vehicles.
Hazardous materials classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that can only be transported by truck drivers with special training and a CDL endorsement.
Usually used with flatbed trailers, headache racks are steel barriers behind the cab of a tractor that protect drivers from loads shifting forward and crashing into the cab.
The load traveling to its original destination, from point A to point B. The headhaul is usually the highest revenue-generating portion of the haul.
Any shipment that needs to be transported as soon as possible.
Hot Shot Trucking
Type of trucking in which medium-duty pickup trucks use flatbed trailers to haul relatively small loads on tight deadlines.
Hours of Service (HOS)
Set by FMCSA, the maximum number of hours drivers can be on duty, including an 11-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive off-duty hours for property-carrying drivers.
The International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) is an agreement between the United States and Canada to distribute fuel taxes evenly. IFTA simplifies fuel use reporting for carriers that operate in more than one jurisdiction.
Freight shipments that require more than one mode of transportation—air, rail, sea, or truck.
Shipments that originate in one state and deliver to another.
Shipments that originate in and deliver to the same state.
When a tractor and trailer fold in toward one another to make an acute angle.
The shipping of goods to a customer just as they’re needed to minimize inventory, reduce waste, and prevent delivery issues.
Retractable legs that support the front end of a trailer when it’s not hooked up to a tractor.
When a driver is on a delay for a day or more due to a shipper or receiver. Some drivers earn layover pay for these delays.
A long combination vehicle (LCV) is any vehicle with two or more trailers, such as a triple.
Lease Purchase Agreement
Similar to a standard lease, but with the option to purchase the equipment at the conclusion of the contract. Some carriers offer lease purchase agreements to owner operators looking to buy a truck.
The transportation of goods between terminals.
An online marketplace where shippers and freight brokers can post loads they need transported, and owner operators can search for and claim loads.
A driver who operates in a small geographic area, usually within a 200-mile radius. Local truck drivers are home every night and generally work 8 to 10-hour days.
Required books that truckers must use to record hours of service and duty status for every 24-hour period.
The process of planning, coordinating, and executing the transportation of goods from one point to another.
Transporting cargo over long distances that typically require drivers to spend one or several nights away from home.
A flatbed trailer that is low to the ground to accommodate oversize, wide, or tall loads.
Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) freight weighs less than a normal full truckload, usually under 10,000 pounds.
A shipping document that lists all freight and cargo items for a particular shipment.
Assigned by the FMCSA, the Motor Carrier (MC) number gives carriers authority to transport cargo and goods across state lines.
Medical Review Officer
A licensed physician certified to review lab results from drug tests, determine if positive results have a medical explanation, and report findings to employer representatives.
A motor carrier transports property or passengers for compensation.
A motor vehicle record (MVR) is a report including information on a driver’s traffic violations, unpaid tickets, accidents, and driving convictions.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trilateral trade bloc between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
When a driver doesn’t have to load or unload their cargo.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is the leading association for small business owner operators and professional truck drivers.
Authorization granted by the FMCSA that allows trucking carriers to transport between states and across international borders. Carriers with operating authority have MC and DOT numbers.
Over-the-Road (OTR) refers to cross-country routes over long distances. OTR drivers can be away from home for weeks at a time, often driving more than 100,000 miles per year.
A load that exceeds the standard size or weight limits, such as construction machines, modular homes, and windmill propellors.
A truck driver who owns and drives their truck and equipment, either operating under their own authority or leasing with a carrier.
Pickup and delivery, usually on local or city routes.
The cargo or freight that a vehicle carries.
A “per day” reimbursement for meals, overnight stays, and incidental expenses.
A semi-trailer that can be shipped by rail or a flatbed trailer that carries its own forklift.
Diamond-shaped signs on all sides of a trailer showing which type of hazardous materials the truck is hauling.
Port of Entry
Checkpoints at state or international borders where commercial drivers might have to stop and show paperwork.
The required daily inspection of the vehicle and all its major systems. Drivers must record the inspection in the driver’s logbook as “on-duty, not driving.”
Proof of Delivery
Proof of delivery (POD) is a receipt confirming that goods have been delivered.
Short trailers measuring 26 to 32 feet long often used to haul doubles.
Also called Omnitracs, an onboard computer that allows companies to track and exchange messages with drivers.
A refrigerator trailer with insulated walls used to transport food and freight that requires a temperature-controlled environment.
Drivers that haul freight within a specific part of the country (e.g., Midwest or Northeast). Regional drivers are usually able to get home weekly.
Drivers start at different points, meet in the middle, swap trailers, and turn around and head back to their home terminals. Relay driving enables drivers to be home every night and work with no touch freight.
Restrictions placed on a CDL to keep drivers from operating specific types of equipment, such as an E restriction, which prohibits drivers from operating vehicles with a manual transmission.
A trucking company policy that allows a non-employee to ride along with the truck driver.
Slang for big tractor-trailer units.
A trailer with its own wheels on the back and supported at the front by a fifth wheel mounted to a tractor.
When drivers must clear their personal items from their tractor at the end of their shift to make way for another driver.
A one-piece vehicle with the cargo area attached to the chassis, also called a box truck.
A closed and baffled trailer that carries wet or dry bulk goods.
Two drivers switch off driving and sleeping and other non-driving tasks to expedite freight transport.
A truck designed to pull a trailer.
A combination tractor and semi-trailer.
The non-motorized unit pulled by a tractor/truck.
A single tractor pulling three trailers at one time.
A load that fills an entire trailer, either by weight or volume.
When a single tractor pulls two trailers simultaneously (also called doubles).
All companies operating commercial motor vehicles must have a USDOT number, a unique identifier that helps monitor a company’s safety information.
An enclosed rectangular box designed to hold cargo. Vans are the most common type of trailers.
The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a unique number assigned to all vehicles and trailers.
A driver who moves semi-trailers within a distribution center, factory, or cargo yard.
When you’re driving solo for hours, days, or weeks at a time, staying connected to your fellow truckers can make you feel like part of a community and help you find any resources and information you may need. Here’s how to interpret some of what you may hear on the CB radio and how you can reply in turn.
|Alligator||A piece of tire left on the road, usually because of a blown tire|
|Back It Down||Slow down|
|Back Row||The last rows of truck stop parking, often an area for human trafficking and prostitution|
|Bambi||An alive or dead deer on the road|
|Bear||A law enforcement officer|
|Bear Bait||A speeding vehicle that can protect vehicles behind it|
|Bear Bite||A speeding ticket|
|Bear in the Bushes||Hiding law enforcement, often with a radar gun|
|Billy Big Rigger||A driver who brags about himself and his big, shiny truck|
|Black Eye||One headlight out|
|Brush Your Teeth and Comb Your Hair||Radar gun ahead|
|Bumper Sticker||A tailgating vehicle|
|Come Back||An invitation for another driver to talk or repeat themselves|
|Comic Book||Driver’s logbook|
|County Mounty||Sheriff’s deputy or county police|
|Double Nickel||55 miles per hour|
|Draggin’ Wagon||Tow truck|
|Dragonfly||A truck with not enough power (dragging up the hills, flying down the hills)|
|Driving Award||A speeding ticket|
|Granny Lane||The right, slow lane|
|Greasy Side Up||A vehicle that has flipped over|
|Handle||A nickname used to identify the speaker|
|Hole in the Wall||Tunnel|
|Lot Lizard||Derogatory term for someone who’s being prostituted at a truck stop|
|Magic Mile||The last mile of a trip|
|Motion Lotion||Truck fuel|
|Power Up||Speed up|
|Ratchet Jaw||Someone who talks a lot on the CB|
|Sandbox||Runaway truck ramp|
|Sesame Street||Channel 19 on the CB radio|
|Shiny Side Up||The vehicle is still right side up after an accident or rollover|
|Throwing Iron||Put on snow tire chains|
|Toothpicks||A load of lumber|
|Wiggle Wagon||Double or triple trailers|
|Wipin’ Her Feet||Truck is slipping and sliding|