The trucking industry offers many opportunities to aspiring and experienced drivers who plan to transport cargo for customers. Drivers can choose between various trucking services, such as line-haul transport that revolves around transporting shipments between major cities, ports, or hubs.

On the other hand, long-haul drivers typically transport goods across vast distances, usually between states and borders. However, many drivers are venturing into short-haul trucking for various reasons that include a better work-life balance, lower operating costs, and many others.

Short-haul transport typically involves moving cargo within a 100 to 150-air-mile radius, ultimately reducing transit times per journey and increasing the number of trips that truckers perform during their on-duty hours.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the world of short-haul trucking by explaining the process in detail and highlighting some of its key benefits. We’ll also discuss important considerations and industry regulations that truckers should account for.  

What Is Short-Haul Trucking?

As the name implies, short-haul trucking refers to the transportation of cargo over short distances, typically within a 100-150 air-mile radius.

short haul load

This also means that short-haul drivers who pick up and deliver loads end their duty by reporting back to their base or starting location. Moreover, they return home after their shifts instead of having to layover, which is common in long-haul trucking.

While most short-haul truckers operate during the day, some trucking companies may require drivers to work night shifts, depending on the requirements of their customers.  

Short-Haul Trucking vs Long-Haul Trucking

The key difference between short-haul and long-haul trucking is the travel distance when transporting freight. Long-haul loads usually travel 250 miles or further, whereas short-haul drivers move cargo within a short radius, usually within the same city, state, and surrounding areas.

Due to longer transit times, long-haul drivers may find themselves spending nights outside of their starting location, typically at truck terminals and rest stops. In light of this, they often reap higher pay due to the more challenging nature of their roles and duties, even though their core responsibilities are similar to short-haul truckers. 

Short-Haul Trucking Applications

Short-haul trucking can involve transporting both LTL (Less-Than-Truckload) and FTL (Full Truckload) cargo. LTL involves transporting smaller shipments from multiple customers in a single load, while FTL involves dedicating the entire truckload to a single customer.

Short-haul trucking services are common in a variety of industries and scenarios, such as the following:

  • Agriculture
  • Automotive (typically spare parts)
  • Construction Materials
  • Equipment & Machinery
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Intermodal Containers
  • Last-Mile Deliveries
  • Manufactured Goods & Raw Materials
  • Perishable Goods
  • Retail Distribution

Short-Haul HOS Regulations

Generally, all drivers operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) must comply with the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Short-haul truckers must adhere to the maximum driving time limitations if:

  • Their truck or truck-trailer weighs more than 10,000 lbs
  • The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is more than 10,000 lbs
  • They transport high quantities of hazardous materials 

HOS regulations are imposed to avoid fatigue-related accidents by preventing excessive driving time. However, since short-haul drivers operate within a 150-mile radius, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) offers more leniency and flexibility for short-haul operations. 

Below are a few exceptions for short-haul truckers. For more information, visit the official FMCSA website for resources on short-haul HOS regulations: 

16-Hour Short-Haul Exception

The 16-Hour Short-Haul Exception allows drivers to extend their operating hours from 14 to 16 once for each 7-day duty period. Drivers exercising this exception must either wait 7 days following the use of this exception or take 34 consecutive hours off before using it again.

Since this exception generally applies to short-haul truckers, it mandates them to return to their base or starting location. Long-haul or line-haul drivers can use it if they have transitioned to short-haul-only duties in the past five duty tours. 

With the 16-Hour Short-Haul Exception, drivers can operate more flexibly and accommodate longer shifts on demand while avoiding HOS violations. 

CDL Exception

Drivers who haul cargo within a 150-mile radius exclusively don’t need to obtain a commercial driver’s license. Additionally, short-haul truckers can use the 16-hour exception two times in seven consecutive days.

In order to use the extended 16-hour duty day again, they would need to wait at least 7 days from the first extension or take their mandatory 34-hour off-duty rest. However, they must return to the base or their starting location daily to take advantage of CDL and 16-hour exceptions. 

Logbook Exception

Short-haul drivers are exempt from maintaining a log book. However, the FMCSA requires them to keep time records and operate within a 100 and 150-air-mile radius for the exception to apply. The USDOT also requires drivers using the logbook exception to report and return to the same location within 12 consecutive hours on duty. 

24-Hour Off-Duty Benefits

The 24-Hour Off-Duty Exception is another popular exception in the US trucking industry exclusive to short-haul drivers transporting construction materials and equipment.

Under this exception, drivers can reduce their mandatory 34-hour off-duty period to 24 hours, giving them more control over their rest breaks. However, the FMCSA has imposed certain conditions drivers must adhere to before reaping the benefits.

For instance, they can only operate within a 50-mile radius from their base to and from an active construction site, potentially restricting their activities or income. Secondly, drivers using this exception cannot transport hazardous materials that require placards to ensure road safety. 

Why Truckers Choose Short-Haul Trips

Short-haul trucking offers many lucrative benefits that entice drivers and carriers to adopt the practice. For instance, drivers can quickly familiarize themselves with routes or areas they operate in and improve their work-life balance, as they typically return home after shifts.

short haul trucker

Similarly, carriers can reduce operating and fleet maintenance costs when opting for short-haul trucking. Below, we’ll explain these core benefits in detail and share more reasons why trucking companies and truckers choose short-haul trips.

Area Familiarity 

Most short-haul truckers operate within their towns, cities, or states. This means that over time, they will get more familiar with popular transport routes and road conditions. Area familiarity improves several aspects of trucking operations.

For example, it improves navigation by reducing reliance on maps and GPS. Truckers can also beat traffic by picking specific routes or optimizing their schedules, ultimately reducing transit times, which leads to quicker and more deliveries. 

Lower Operating Costs

Short-haul trucking typically has lower operating costs due to shorter distances and flexible delivery schedules. Truckers are able to reduce fuel costs and slow down equipment wear and tear.

Moreover, fuel rates are also more stable as hauling activities are typically carried out within the same state, where fuel prices are similarly regulated. This reduces budgeting complexities and allows truckers to better manage truck driver expenses through effective planning and fuel hedging.

While parking fees are typically higher for short-haul activities, other expenses like toll fees, weighing, and layovers are generally minimal to none. 

Better Work-Life Balance

Many truck drivers opt for short-haul loads to improve their work-life balance. Less time on the road means they have more time for personal and work-related activities like loading, unloading, and administration.

By going home after each shift, they can spend time with their families having to live on the road for extended periods. A recent NCBI study showed that long-haul drivers with mile-based pay structures usually suffer more fatigue than their counterparts, leading to more stress, job dissatisfaction, and higher road safety risks. 

Lower Barrier to Entry

Short-haul trucking is the go-to choice for most new drivers and carriers, as they can enjoy a lower barrier of entry to the market and reduce their expenditures. Similarly, new drivers can gain valuable experience by transporting short-haul loads before venturing into long-haul trucking.

Short-haul trucking also provides more opportunities for carriers and drivers to interact with other truckers, clients, and local businesses, increasing their market knowledge and experience in a relatively short amount of time.

Ease of Regulatory Compliance

Short-haul offers more leniency and flexibility, the most enticing one being a CDL exception. Drivers can also benefit from extended duty time, logbook exceptions, and shorter off-duty rest periods as long as they meet the conditions set by the FMCSA.

Furthermore, complying with other common regulatory obligations is less complicated. For example, most short-haul truckers usually operate within the same city or state and surrounding areas.

For that reason, they are generally not required to use weigh stations near state borders or study the trucking regulations of other jurisdictions.

Customer Variety 

Short-haul truckers usually have a broader customer base since they make multiple short trips during their shifts. The added exposure and interactions keep the job interesting and allow them to learn about different businesses and supply chain processes.

Forward-thinking truckers can build better relationships with clients and generate more business. Having flexible timings and conditions also unlocks opportunities for secondary income streams through touch freight, equipment procurement, and other opportunities. 

What Short-Haul Truckers Need to Consider

If you’re intrigued by the benefits of short-haul trucking and are looking to venture into this service, consider the factors below before finalizing your decision.

  • Potentially Lower Pay – Short-haul truckers typically make less than their long-haul counterparts due to shorter distances and fewer complexities. In other words, long-haul truckers are more likely to earn more per trip or mile. Short-haul truckers generally make between $50,000 and $80,000 a year, depending on their location, market demand, and other factors. In contrast, long-haul drivers are expected to make around 15% – 20% more on average. 
  • Freight Handling – Short-haul trucking often involves transporting LTL loads and may be responsible for loading and unloading activities, as most clients request touch freight services in addition to more frequent pickups and deliveries. This can make the job more physically demanding and time-consuming. They may also need additional training on handling certain types of cargo. 
  • Longer Working Hours – Short-haul drivers usually work longer hours due to multiple short trips in a single shift and waiting time in between loads. Hence, they need to improve time management to comply with HOS regulations. Opportunities for breaks are also shorter since they must pick up and drop off cargo to and from multiple locations. 
  • Traffic & Delays – Short-haul deliveries are highly susceptible to delays, especially in high-traffic areas. Therefore, drivers must learn to plan routes more effectively and stay informed about local traffic conditions. 
  • Lack of Variety – Most trucking companies offering short-haul transport services typically have a fixed number of clients. As a result, drivers have routine jobs and generally operate on repetitive routes, leading to a lack of variety in work. However, there are ways to combat this, including job rotation, task variation, route diversification, and collaborative shipping projects. 
  • Smaller Client Pool – Many short-haul trucking companies work with a limited client pool due to limited coverage. Although this can improve client relationships, operations easily become repetitive and monotonous. 

5 Tips for Short-Haul Trucking

Below are some valuable tips to accelerate your growth to becoming a proficient short-haul trucker.

1. Maximize HOS Exemptions When Necessary

Many short-haul truckers can struggle to meet HOS requirements even with effective route, schedule, and time management. Hence, leveraging HOS exemptions is one of the smartest ways to ensure compliance.

For instance, if you’re getting late due to traffic congestion or other issues, you can opt for the 16-Hour Exception and work for two additional hours as long as you return to your base.

HOS Exemptions can also be your ticket to venture into the trucking industry. For example, you can use the CDL Exception to move short-haul loads without a commercial driver’s license (CDL). 

2. Plan Route Using Technology

Short-haul trucking relies heavily on efficient planning due to multiple deliveries in a single trip or shift. Therefore, it’s important to leverage technologically advanced platforms to optimize schedules and routes.

electronic logging devices (ELD) in trucking

Popular solutions include electronic logging devices (ELDs), digital freight matching (DFM) platforms, and transport management systems (TMS). An ELD automatically logs duty times, provides live tracking, and monitors truck performance.

Similarly, DFMs allow truckers to secure loads to fill schedule gaps and plan better routes. Finally, a modern TMS can digitalize supply chain processes to enhance efficiency and coordination. 

3. Focus on Securing Clients Within Existing Routes

Most truckers actively seek ways to reduce their costs and maximize profitability. One of the best ways to do that when hauling short-haul loads is to secure clients on existing transit routes.

Picking up and dropping off loads for multiple clients on the same route saves valuable time and fuel, allowing truckers to optimize their schedules while making more money.

In the long run, you can become proficient on specific routes, offer more competitive rates, and refine operations further to get a bigger market share.

4. Ensure Vehicles Are Always Maintained

The last thing you want is for your truck to break down during transit when moving short-haul loads. Ensuring that your truck is in excellent condition is important, as this will allow you to optimize efficiency and improve customer satisfaction.

Create an inspection checklist to monitor fuel, tire pressure, and other essential performance metrics. Furthermore, take care of minor repairs before they cause more problems in the future. 

5. Have a Business Continuity Plan

To ensure smooth, consistent operations, you must have contingencies for different situations, including breakdowns, traffic stops, or prolonged wait times. You can purchase or lease backup trucks or vehicles, depending on your operation scale.

However, if your operations rely on a single vehicle, partner with local workshops, especially those offering round-the-clock service, to take care of repairs quickly and effectively.

Many clients require urgent services, so avoid operating at full or overcapacity constantly to ensure you have sufficient resources to meet their shipment requirements.

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Andrew Lin

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Andrew is a multi-business owner with over 12 years of experience in the fields of logistics, trucking, manufacturing, operations, training, and education.

Being the co-founder of freightcourse has given him the ability to pursue his desire to educate others on manufacturing and supply chain topics.