Pop culture in the 80s painted the picture of truckers as rugged men, wild and free, burdened by nothing except their own wanderlust. That romanticized version of the American truck driver still lingers in the back of my mind, but in recent years the burden of government regulation has proven to be greater than my desire to see what's over the next hill.
Oppressive regulation in the trucking industry has been around almost as long as the iconic chrome bulldog on the hood of Mack trucks. Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Federal Motor Carrier Act (FMCA) of 1935 during his first term. This gave the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), an agency originally formed to regulate railroads, the authority to regulate the burgeoning business of moving goods by tractor-trailer. The ICC ultimately decided which companies could haul certain goods, for whom, where, and what they could charge. The ICC even decided if new transportation companies could enter the market by requiring eager upstarts to prove their services were "needed."
The only exemptions to these laws were in the agricultural sector. FDR and his horde of central planners did not want to cause an increase in food prices during a time when many Americans were already struggling to put food on the table. Nevermind the tacit admission that the FMCA would raise prices on all other goods. This exemption had its own unintended consequences. While independent drivers, commonly referred to as wildcatters in driver slang, were not subject to the price floors previously mentioned, they were limited to hauling only agricultural goods. This limitation caused a significant logistical dilemma for wildcatters delivering in industrialized parts of the country, and is largely responsible for the mythos of the outlaw trucker we all know today from music and film. Whether in an old country song from Red Sovine or Kurt Russell's character in Big Trouble in Little China, such renegades are almost always hauling agricultural goods.
Thankfully, a trend towards deregulation began in the 1970s, and the cesspool of cronyism and perverse incentives created by FDR was substantially reined in with the FMCA of 1980. This is why we now see hundreds, if not not thousands of company names sprawled along the sides of 53-foot trailers. Granted, we still have the ICC, though today it is known as the Department of Transportation, and any truck driver that has had to spend 10 hours at a scale house without a shower or a hot meal over a minor infraction of hours of service rules (another specter of the FMCA of 1935) will tell you it remains quite burdensome. But things are still better than they used to be.