Did Deregulation Change Trucking?
“[T]he Motor Carrier Act of 1980…is historic legislation [to the trucking industry]. It will remove 45 years of excessive and inflationary government restrictions and red tape. It will have a powerful anti-inflationary effect, reducing consumer costs by as much as $8 billion each year. And by ending wasteful practices, it will conserve annually hundreds of millions of gallons of precious fuel…The heart of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 is its call for prompt and sweeping change of the regulations that have insulated the trucking industry from competition since 1935. No longer will trucks travel empty because of rules absurdly limiting the kinds of’ goods a truck may carry. No longer will trucks be forced to travel hundreds of miles out of their way for no reason or prohibited senselessly from stopping to pick up and deliver goods at points along their routes. The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 will bring the trucking industry into the free enterprise system, where it belongs. It will create a strong presumption in favor of entry by new truckers and expanded service by existing firms. It will build upon progress the Interstate Commerce Commission has begun to make in opening opportunities for minorities, for women, and for all truckers who are eager to provide good service at a competitive price.”
– President Jimmy Carter, Motor Carrier Act of 1980 Statement on Signing S. 2245 Into Law.

It is a safe assumption that at no time in trucking history has there been a greater upheaval among the nation’s motor carriers than during the first half of the 1980s. Much of the blame, or often the credit, has been laid at the door of deregulation, brought about by the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. Yet it is important to note that the insurance crisis and the United State’s changing economy have had an equal, if not greater, effect on motor transportation. And it is encouraging to note that among major carrier, there have been substantially more winners than losers.

In 1985, there was a record 1,533 carriers that folded. In the pre-regulation and pre-insurance crisis days of 1978, only 162 folded. Moreover, of the 1,533 failures in 1985, the General Accounting Office claims that 1,300 of them were insurance-related.

Meanwhile, at the end of 1985, the ICC listed 33,548 motor carriers with some kind of operating authority – 2,502 more than in 1984, and double the number in 1979. Of the 1985 total, 39,000 were Call III carriers (less than $1 million annual revenue), indicating that most were owner-operators, small fleets, or in some cases, private fleets that had requested for-hire authority.

The lists* below are far from complete. Rather, they are samplings of the radical changes – the pathos and the glory – that have emerged in the 1980s.

*lists are from the October 1986 Heavy Duty Trucking article, “Trucking: What’s Hot, What’s Not.” That examines all the phases of the changing scene of the trucking industry post-deregulation.