Most truck drivers that get their commercial driver’s license (CDL) expect to only operate a truck and transport cargo from one location to another. However, the job scope of a truck driver may extend past just operating the vehicle. In some cases, truck drivers are also expected to handle cargo.  

This method of trucking is called touch freight, and it requires drivers to either assist in loading and unloading or manage the process independently. In this article, we’ll explain in detail what touch freight means, how it works, and its pros and cons. We’ll also share the best practices for drivers looking to perform touch freight jobs. 

Meaning of Touch Freight

While most trucking involves hauling cargo from one destination to another, certain shippers or receivers require support when it comes to cargo handling. Touch freight is a trucking term that describes a scenario where truck drivers, or trained personnel from the trucking company, are instructed to physically handle cargo during loading and unloading.

In contrast, no-touch freight simply requires drivers to transport cargo without being involved in the loading or unloading process. In essence, touch freight is a more complete logistics process that combines cargo handling with the transport process.

Drivers are usually required to perform activities similar to lumper services by either loading and unloading cargo by hand or through the use of a forklift if the cargo is palletized.  

touch freight
A Truck Driver Loading Cargo into a Container/Trailer

Many people mistake touch freight for live loading and unloading due to their similarities. The key difference between the two is that touch freight typically involves smaller freight and also required the truck driver or a trained operator to load or unload the cargo.

As a result, the process isn’t as labor-intensive, and the loading and unloading time is relatively less, except in special circumstances. In rare scenarios, no-touch freight may also involve stacking and sorting of cartons or pallets.

Most trucking companies claim touch freight to be riskier than no-touch freight due to the heightened risk of injury to their drivers and potential cargo damage. Nevertheless, it remains a fundamental aspect of the trucking industry as it affects operational efficiency, labor costs, and service quality levels.

How Do Touch Freight Operations Work?

As mentioned above, touch freight operations require drivers to physically handle the cargo they’re transporting at various touchpoints. In a typical scenario, they drive the truck to the loading or unloading site at their client’s facility. 

They then coordinate with the warehouse staff, cargo handlers, and other operations personnel and proceed to load or unload the cargo. This can either be done by physically moving cartons and boxes or using forklifts and pallet jacks to move pallets in and out of the truck.

Depending on the cargo type, weight, and other conditions, drivers may need to use several tools and equipment types to lift, secure, and move the freight in and out of their trucks, like hooks, fittings, fasteners, and tie-downs.

Benefits of Offering Touch-Freight Services

Touch freight is one of the two main trucking methods employed by most carriers in the industry. Below are some of the key benefits it offers.

  • Reduces Outsource Dependency – By opting for touch freight, trucking companies don’t need to outsource lumper services to a third party. As a result, they can enjoy better control over their operations. Drivers would also be trained beforehand to handle the cargo they’re transporting. 
  • Increases Revenue – By adopting touch freight operations, trucking companies can increase their profit margins by bypassing third-party cargo handling services and offering an in-house service instead. With this model, they charge extra for loading and unloading and pay additional income to their drivers. 
  • Less Administrative Work – Since drivers are responsible for cargo handling, they can coordinate directly with the facility’s key personnel. Hence, trucking carriers don’t need to schedule and time lumper service arrivals at loading and unloading sites. This reduces the overall administrative work and simplifies operations. 
  • Maximizes Efficiency – When trucking companies also take charge of the cargo handling process, they have full control over scheduling, route planning, and equipment procurement. Many carriers practice first in, last out (FILO) to forego the need to rearrange cargo during transit, thus, reducing turnaround time. Most outsourced cargo handlers are usually unaware of the arrangements and load or unload cargo as is. 
  • Improves Customer Satisfaction – Companies that offer touch freight services are more likely to know the requirements and preferences of different shippers and consignees as their drivers communicate with them directly. This enables them to customize and personalize their services accordingly and improve customer satisfaction. 

Drawbacks of Offering Touch-Freight Services

Unfortunately, touch freight is not without a few drawbacks. In the below sections, we’ll be taking a closer look.

  • Requires Training – While all truck drivers are licensed and professionally trained to operate a truck, many of them are not trained to handle cargo. Cargo loading and unloading mandates the use of proper handling techniques and equipment. As a result, these labor-intensive tasks can be a risk to the safety of the driver and other personnel around them. 
  • Reduces Driver Productivity – Since drivers have to stop at different facilities and physically handle cargo, they make fewer deliveries during their Hours of Service (HOS) compared to drivers practicing the no-touch freight method. In other words, cargo loading and unloading reduce their overall productivity as both processes can be time-consuming.
  • Labor Shortage – Trucking companies that practice touch freight become heavily reliant on their drivers. This becomes a noteworthy issue when drivers go on leave or if there is a truck driver shortage in the market. This can provide to be challenging as carriers have to look for drivers from a limited pool since not all drivers are willing or have the skill set to do touch freight.
  • Increases Liability – Since cargo handling is done in-house, truck drivers and carriers increase their liabilities by taking charge of freight handling. In other words, they become responsible for any damage caused to the cargo, which increases their insurance premiums. 

Best Practices for Drivers When Performing Touch Freight Jobs

As mentioned above, touch freight is the preferred operating method for hundreds of trucking companies in the United States. So, if you’re a driver looking to operate trucks and handle cargo, below are some practices you can adopt to simplify and improve your experience.

Check if the Shipper or Receiver Has the Necessary Equipment

Communication is key for truckers offering touch freight services. They must check and ensure their clients (shippers and receivers) have the necessary equipment (pallet jacks, forklifts, or similar) to load or unload cargo upon arrival. Otherwise, drivers might waste valuable time waiting for proper equipment or risk injuring themselves by opting for a workaround. 

Verify Cargo Conditions During Loading

Secondly, drivers should proactively inspect cargo before loading it into their truck, preferably in the presence of the shipper’s staff. With this approach, they can identify any damaged or incorrect cargo and inform the client immediately. 

Practice Safety First

As mentioned earlier, touch freight is a riskier process due to more safety hazards involved. As a result, drivers are highly recommended to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including cargo handling gloves providing cut resistance, weight lifting back brace, and other necessary gear such as safety goggles, hard hats, full-body suits, and steel cap boots. 

Drivers should also learn how to properly lift cargo by hand or equipment to prevent damage or injuries. For instance, when loading or unloading boxes, they should keep a wide base of support, squat down, and lift slowly while keeping a good posture. 

Understand Your Limits

Touch freight is a physically demanding and exhausting trucking method. Hence, it’s safe to say that it’s not for everyone. However, if you feel like you can do it, you must keep your health in check and avoid lifting cargo that’s beyond what you can handle. 

We recommend learning how to use different equipment and machinery so you can opt for freight jobs that don’t require handling cargo by hand. If you prefer the traditional handling process, make sure you have a proper diet and get enough rest for your body to recover. 

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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.