Everything You Need to Know About Short-Haul Trucking

July 31, 2020

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Key Takeaways

Short haul trucking combines the freedom of the open road with the stability and home time that drivers with families crave. There are two types of short haul truckers: regional and local truck drivers, both with their own pros and cons. If you are interested in becoming a truck driver, read on to learn more about the challenges, benefits and lifestyle that comes with short haul truckers.

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Trucking is a stable and rewarding career choice with lots of job security. Yet many prospective drivers worry about long treks and isolation. 

Short-haul trucking might be the right solution for some prospective truckers. Short-haul trucking combines the freedom of the open road with the stability and home time drivers with families crave. It’s the best of both worlds. Short-haul truckers also play a crucial role in the supply chain, moving trillions of dollars of goods every year.

In this article, we’ll dive into what short-haul truck driving involves and how it compares to long-haul trucking. We'll look at challenges facing short-haul drivers and road-tested solutions. We’ll then outline the path to becoming a short-haul trucker.

What is short-haul trucking?

Short-haul trucking involves transporting shipments within a 150-mile radius. Unlike long-haul or “over the road” (OTR) trucking, which involves driving hundreds of miles, short-haul truckers stay closer to home.

Since short-haul routes are relatively brief, truckers can complete multiple routes on the same day. This helps break up the monotony of the road and keeps drivers from sitting for too long, possibly damaging their health.

While short-haul truck drivers may have long hours, they have a better work-life balance than OTR truckers. This is because short-haul truck drivers usually drive between 150-250 miles for one delivery, while OTR truckers have deliveries over 250 miles. Because they’re not on the road for weeks at a time, they benefit from ample home time, seeing their families at night or on the weekends.

Why short-haul trucking is in demand

There’s never been a better time to become a commercial driver. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has reported a massive trucker shortage. There aren’t enough drivers to complete orders, and short-haul truckers face an even bigger shortage in the coming years.

The average driver age for the trucking industry is 46, meanwhile, the median age for other workers is 41. This means that as experienced drivers retire, more vacancies will open up. Because of driver retirement and industry growth, the trucking industry will need to hire an estimated 890,000 new drivers across a decade to keep pace with demand. The ATA expects a shortage of 160,000 truckers by 2028 if current trends hold. This intense shortage, coupled with the high-stability of short-haul trucking, makes it a career for you to prosper in for years to come.

What are the types of short-haul trucking?

Short-haul trucking is often subdivided into regional and local trucking. Local truckers stick to smaller shipments traveling less than 100 miles, and regional truckers take trips usually around 100-250 miles. While the distance difference can be slight, driving as a regional or local trucker can be very different.

  • Regional Trucking: Regional trucking can resemble OTR trucking in that truckers may drive for days at a time and cross state lines. Some regional truckers drive large trucks with cabins where they sleep during long trips. Otherwise, drivers stay at hotels.

Regional truckers often have more predictable schedules than long-haul truckers, who rarely repeat the same route. Short-haul drivers have regular routes for the same customers and grow better client relationships.

  • Local Trucking: Local truckers enjoy the satisfaction that comes from serving their community because they often move products within their neighborhoods. Some local truckers pick up where OTR truckers leave off and transport products from distribution centers to local destinations. Others transport regional specialties end-to-end.

Local truckers often travel on city roads, which can be more stressful than highway driving. But instead of maneuvering tractor-trailers, local truckers often drive smaller haulers and trucks. This makes urban navigation a lot less demanding.

Why is short-haul trucking an attractive career?

Many drivers find short-haul trucking to be a flexible career with lots of benefits. But to determine if it’s right for you, you need to weigh the pros and cons yourself. Three of the top perks of short-haul trucking include:

1. Road familiarity

While short-haul truckers spend more time off-highways than OTR truckers, their home-field advantage makes them experts on local roads. Their familiarity with the terrain means that they know which routes are the fastest, what intersections are easy to turn in their rig, and where speed traps might be hiding.

2. ELD Exemptions 

Commercial drivers must log their hours of service (HOS) with an electronic logging device (ELD). HOS regulations govern the number of hours truckers must rest between driving legs to combat the risk of drivers nodding off at the wheel. OTR truckers can find these restrictions oppressive when they want to finish a shipment.

However, short-haul drivers traveling within a 100-to-150-mile radius are exempt from HOS requirements. They don’t need to use an ELD or track their HOS compliance. While there are some restrictions based on their vehicle, this can save drivers time and money.

The exemption holds true as long as drivers rest a certain number of hours a week. This grants short-haul truckers the flexibility to make their own driving decisions.

3. Work-life balance 

The work-life balance for short-haul truckers far exceeds OTR truckers’. Short-haul drivers can treat trucking more like a job than a lifestyle, enabling them to foster other interests and relationships. And while the pay is less than OTR trucking, surveys show that company culture and adequate home time inform trucker satisfaction far more than pay rates.

What are some challenges of short-haul trucking?

Like any job, short-haul trucking has difficulties, but drivers can overcome many problems with fleet technology. Let’s dive into four of the most common challenges facing short-haul truckers and their solutions.

1. Juggling multiple routes

Short-haul truckers driving as part of regional fleets are often paid by the mile. When drivers spend time stuck in traffic or face construction delays, they lose time that could have gone to another route. When compounded over multiple trips, it adds up. Planning the most efficient routes means completing more trips and receiving greater mileage pay. 

Solution: The free Driver App from Samsara simplifies trip workflows. Drivers can focus on one route at a time while still getting visibility into their other upcoming deliveries. With route optimization and two-way messaging with dispatchers, truckers can avoid unnecessary delays that keep them from the next delivery. 

2. Meeting client expectations

Customers sometimes underestimate the challenges of short-haul trucking. Since route distances seem more manageable than with OTR trucking, clients expect shipments to take as long as non-commercial driving times. This can be widely inaccurate as it doesn’t factor in low clearance bridges or passenger-vehicle-only roads. 

For good working relationships, drivers need to ensure that dispatchers set reasonable expectations and that clients receive updates on their deliveries. Some dispatchers and drivers provide mobile numbers to call during delivery. But rushed queries take driver focus away from the road, which can be dangerous and result in damaged shipments.

Solution: Samsara offers a real-time customer portal with GPS tracking and estimated times of arrival. Customers can see exactly where their shipment is in real time, and get realistic expectations on when it should arrive. This frees drivers and dispatchers to focus on their primary duties, leading to smoother deliveries and better client relationships.

3. Loading dock and asset tracking delays 

Short-haul truckers may have to locate their trailer in large distribution centers and navigate loading and unloading their shipments. Loading docks and asset tracking can be the most chaotic part of a short-haul shipment. Some distribution centers are massive, and it’s easy for drivers to get lost navigating the crowded lots. Since short-haul drivers are paid by the mile, delays at loading docks or finding their assigned trailer are often unpaid. But truckers cannot rush the process because they risk damaging goods, and improper loading and unloading can cause rejected shipments costing thousands of dollars. 

Solution: GPS tracking with Samsara eliminates yard hunts and keeps drivers on the right track. The Driver App couples with truck GPS tracking to offer precise location information. This eliminates yard hunts for assets and enables drivers to find their way to the right loading dock or trailer needed on their first try.

4. Loneliness on the road

Truckers can feel isolated on the road, so battling loneliness is key to a successful long-term career. While short-haul truckers have better work-life balance than OTR truckers, driver turnover can still be high. Partnered driving is less common on short-haul journeys, so creative solutions to community building are key. 

Solution: The Samsara Driver App offers a gamification feature that encourages safe driving and improves team communication. Drivers compete amongst their colleagues on the road on safe driving and fuel efficiency metrics. It’s a simple way to keep drivers connected, engaged with their team, and has reduced turnover among company drivers.

How to become a short-haul trucker

If short-haul trucking appeals to you, the first step towards becoming a professional trucker is driving school. These specialized trucking schools will help you earn your commercial driver’s license (CDL).

There are different classes of CDLs, depending on the size of your vehicle. If you’re driving a tractor-trailer, you’ll need the advanced CDL Class A License. But for smaller vehicles, common in regional and local trucking, a Class B or even Class C License may be sufficient.

Sometimes CDL schools will set you up with a driver trainer. You’ll learn from them while they complete routes and teach you how to handle yourself like a professional.

Some CDL training schools have partnered with fleets to help you with job placement after graduation. This can be really beneficial since jobs for inexperienced truckers are not always attractive. New drivers should expect to pay their dues for a couple of years while they gain experience and prove they can be trusted with valuable cargo.

Should you become a short-haul trucking owner-operator?

Experienced company drivers who want extra freedom can transition to become an owner-operator. Owner-operators are truckers that own their vehicle and contract their own shipments. Instead of yielding to fleet dispatchers, owner-operators can take the shipments they deem valuable. That means drivers earn the full payment for a shipment and can seek more lucrative loads.

The down-side of becoming an owner-operator is cost and liability. Fleets provide drivers with benefits, fuel, and cover some maintenance expenses. Owner-operators can spend up to 70% of their pay on expenses like fuel and insurance.

Enjoy the stability of short-haul trucking

Short-haul truckers make up an important community. From international fleets to lone owner-operators, the stability, reliability, and freedom of the role attracts passionate transportation professionals. And after you find a CDL training school in your area, you’re ready to start your journey towards becoming a short-haul trucker yourself.

But you don’t have to do it all on your own. With a suite of tools to help you succeed, Samsara supports short-haul truckers every step of the way.

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