FreightWaves Ratings cuts through the noise of freight technology product reviews to make you a smarter buyer

Trucking Terminology for New Truck Drivers

If you want to be a trucker, you’ve gotta speak the lingo. Just like in every new industry you venture into, there’s going to be a learning curve to the language that’s going to be used in your everyday life. 

From acronyms to axle configurations, the ABCs of trucking terminology for new truck drivers is both vast and variable, but the precision of these variations makes your life on and off the road easier to handle.

Why Is It Important to Know Trucking Terminology? 

Outside of not wanting to sound like the new kid on the lot, knowing your truck terms will help you bill correctly and budget accordingly. Just like you wouldn’t take a route with no markers for the risk of getting lost, navigating trucking terms isn’t always just like riding a bike, no matter how long you’ve been driving. Knowing and being able to correctly use the words below will help your beginner truck driver’s resume sound like it’s from a pro.

Common Trucking Terminology

Let’s start with the basics because even though you may know some of these words, acronyms, and phrases from your life as a non-commercial driver, the life of a trucker brings different scales and meanings to the rules of the road.

ABS: Anti-Lock Braking System

Just like its non-commercial counterpart, an anti-lock braking system is an automated brake controller that maintains stability as you apply pressure to the brake pedal to come to a stop. 

As both gravity and inertia can be your enemy when carrying a large haul, ABS is key in making sure that you keep control of the steering console of your truck while also deterring jackknifing or skidding to a halt.

In trucking terms, depending on if you have a power-supplied trailer with an ABS unit or a non-powered unit that is fully controlled by the brake pedal, different ABS actions can occur. When ABS is engaged, an indicator light will turn on signifying it’s working, initiating a self-test which will then display if there are any detected issues. Make sure you keep track of any indicators because no one wants a runaway truck.

Air Ride Suspension

The suspension on commercial trucks comes in two different configurations, those being the older and more common steel spring suspension, and then the less common air ride suspension. Air ride suspension refers to a process in which compressed air is pumped into rubber bags from the same tank as the air brake system to support the load of a haul.

Axle

One of the most common terms in reference to vehicles at large, axles in trucking have the widest array of configurations and differentiation. Below, we’ll explore some of the more common axle configurations and uses.

  • Steer Axle: Generally, in the front of the truck, the steering axle governs the axles that are purely determinants of the steering column.
  • Driver/Rear Axles: Driver axles are typically the rear axles that are live. Powered by the engine, these axles rotate to push a truck forward.
  • Pusher Axles: A non-active axle used to redistribute weight and allow for more efficiency, configured before a drive axle to add more stability. The inclusion of these axles is sometimes federally mandated for safety and regulatory reasons.
  • Tag Axles: Another non-active axle, the tag axle is located behind the drive axles to redistribute weight behind the rear drive axles.
  • Tandem Axles: An axle array consisting of 2 sets of axles spaced one behind the other, generally 5 feet apart. These truck axles are used for doubling up tires, with the express purpose of protecting your trailer in the case one tire blows, there is another immediately engaged to redistribute the weight properly.
    Though great for safety, and being able to carry heavier loads, this really only works for leveled loads, and has a much higher initial investment, with a shorter half if loads are unleveled.
  • Spread Axles: Unlike tandem axles, spread axles hold one tire each, generally no less than 10 feet apart. This type of axle is generally known as the most flexible, by being able to hold loads up to 20,000 pounds per axle, but can have immense wear and tear on the tires with them having to support more weight alone.

    Best for long-haul trucking, this axle array works best when it doesn’t need to make hard turns, which is perfect for the highway.

Bill of Lading

One of the most important trucking terms to know would be the bill of lading, because if you can’t get paid, then you can’t operate. Think of the bill of lading both like a legally binding shipping receipt and order. 

A bill of lading is created by the shipper, a carrier, or a third-party logistics operator on behalf of a shipper. It includes all of the information a driver or carrier needs to process a shipment, and unilaterally invoice for it. 

The bill of lading is a receipt that freight has been received by a carrier, the agreement of where it is going, and an agreement to pay for the shipment by the shipper or someone on their behalf.

Bobtail

Like the animal tail crops they’re named after, a bobtail truck is simply a truck that doesn’t currently have a trailer attached to it. Generally, a truck becomes a bobtail if a trailer has been left at its destination.

In a more niche sense, the U.S. Department of Energy calls the short trucks used to carry propane bobtail, simply because out of tanking trucks, they are noticeably shorter.

Bridge Formula

As far as truck driving terms go, the Bridge Formula is a federally regulated equation that establishes the maximum weight for “any set of axles on a motor vehicle” to carry on the Interstate. 

Created in 1975 to control the weight-to-length ratio for vehicles crossing a bridge, the formula contains three variables:

  • W: represents the gross weight on any two (or more) consecutive axles, rounded to the nearest 500 pounds
  • L: which represents the distance of feet between the outer axles of any group of two or more axles
  • N: represents the number of axles in the overall group in consideration to one another

Regardless of the variables of the equation, the gross federal limit regardless of axles is 80,000 pounds, but weigh stations will check to make sure that your haul is within the federal guidelines, so check your math.

CDL: Commercial Driver’s License

The thing you need before you even get your truck, this certification date should probably be one of the first things on a beginner truck driver’s resume. Just like you need a license to operate a car on the road or a CBT for a motorcycle, a CDL is needed to operate large trucks or use commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).

Though there are endorsements that correspond to specialized used CMVs like passenger buses, tanks, and hazardous materials, there are three standard classes for CDLs that all specify the size and gross vehicle weight rating (also known as the GVWR).

The most common truck terminology in regards to a CDL class would be Class A. Class A CDLs allow drivers to operate tractor-trailers, truck and trailer combinations, flatbeds, and also most vehicles included in Class B and C CDLs. 

Converter Dolly

Designed to connect and pull a tractor, a converter dolly is an unpowered one to three-axle vehicle, normally used to haul a larger quantity of loads quickly rather than larger load quantities at once, a dolly converter. 

EOBR: Electric On-Board Recorder 

Like a speedometer tracks how many miles you’ve driven, an electric on-board recorder tracks how long a vehicle is being driven. The U.S. counterpart to the EU’s tachograph, the EOBR is used to circumvent the gaming of logs that are used to track the time and distance drivers put in. 

Regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to keep drivers alert and reduce fatigue, compliance with the EOBR is generally enforced with hours of service (HOS) which dictates the number and length of breaks a driver needs between distances depending on their duty status. 

LCV: Long Combination Vehicle

Probably the trucking terminology for new truck drivers to avoid, long combination vehicles are for the pros. LCVs are double or triple trailer loads towed by one truck. 

Normally used to carry a combination of cargo or just more of one specific type of shipment, a long combination vehicle is a niche lane of the trucking world. There are a litany of rules and regulations for this type of trucking, so until you know you’re a pro, this isn’t a road we’d recommend you go down.

Line-Haul Driver

Often operating in a carrier freight lane, line-haul drivers are drivers who operate on a specific field route, and who oftentimes make it home for dinner, albeit a late one. These drivers may also sort and handle each load.

That way, freight can be delivered in a sort of order of operations within the same groupings of stops. Though line-haul drivers are still in tractor-trailers, some of these hauls include the final mile.

Less-Than-Truckload

A standard trucking term referring to truckload size, less-than-truckload shipping is for freight that won’t fill up a whole trailer. Used for smaller freight runs, LTL can range from anything above 150 pounds to 15,000 pounds. LTL shipments allow for different shippers to offset the price of a full truckload and just pay for the portion they each need.

Over-the-Road Driver

Over-the-road drivers are the long-distance truckers of the US. Often these drivers spend 3 to 4 weeks on the road at a time, crossing state lines and sometimes national borders. These long-haul drivers often pair off for both safety and compliance purposes. OTR drivers are always in high demand but basically live on the road and out of motels.

P&D

Also referred to as a city driver, P&D simply refers to pickup and delivery.

Reefer

A reefer truck is a truck with an insulated refrigeration unit. These self-powered cold storage units are usually reserved for food or medical supplies.

Sliding Fifth Wheel

The sliding fifth wheel is a physically mounted movable wheel that is used to redistribute the weight on a truck’s axles.

Straight Truck

Unlike a bobtail, straight trucks carry their freight in a mounted body, and not in a detachable trailer.

TL: Truckload

Normally 24 to 30 pallets or more, a truckload is the quantity of freight belonging to a trailer.

Tips for New Truck Drivers

Now that you know your As through Zs, you’ll be able to understand the trucking terms you need to know in order to get started on your journey to building your career in trucking, but first, here are a few things you should think about before you get started:

  • What type of CDL will you need for the types of jobs available in your area?
  • Trucking may not just be a young man’s game, but you should know how far you’re willing to go and how long you’re willing to be away from home. Select your loads based on preferences.
  • In trucking, size matters a lot, but the bigger the haul, the more regulations you’ll need to keep track of.

Are you ready for the road?

Whether you start today or start tomorrow, you now know that you might not always want to take the road less traveled, but while you traverse lanes of the endless interstate, FreightWaves Ratings will always be here to be your guide as you build your career as a truck driver.

FAQ

What Should New Truck Drivers Know?

Regardless of the type of work they want to do, a new truck driver should know everything required to pass a Class A CDL. If a new truck driver wants to haul specialized cargo, they should familiarize themselves with the endorsements to get them the work that most suits their goals.

What is the Technical Term for Truck Driver?

A trucker, or trucker, is just shorthand for a commercial driver.

What Should Every Truck Driver Have?

Every truck driver should have their appropriate permits, licenses, logs depending on haul type and size, a freight lane to keep hauls as lucrative and timely as possible, and roadside emergency gear like flashlights, flares, gauges, and gloves. Additionally, truck drivers should also have whatever a person would pack for a weekend trip such as phone chargers, a water bottle, an extra change of clothes, and other general personal hygiene toiletries.

We are excited to announce the launch of move.freightwaves.com, a revolutionary resource designed to transform how consumers choose auto-shipping companies. Check it out today!

Find Your Next Load Now.

One load board. Unlimited opportunities! Truckstop Load Board Pro gives you freedom, flexibility, and control to run your business your way.