Last year, American truckers hauled 6.2 percent more tonnage than the year before, the best showing since 1998, according to the latest figures released Wednesday by the American Trucking Association. A pickup in those numbers in the second half of the year bodes well for 2014.
Trucking is a good barometer for the overall U.S. economy because more than two-thirds of American manufactured and retail goods are carried by over-the-road freight transportation.
As that tonnage has bounced back from the Great Recession, the trucking industry has had to roll out more trucks to haul it. During the early stages of the recovery, the industry relied on spare capacity and held off on buying new equipment until trucking companies were convinced the recovery was going to keep on rolling.
Now that the recovery looks real, trucking companies are getting back to buying new equipment, according to ATA spokesman Sean McNally.
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"December truck orders were just off the charts," he said. "We're seeing more fleets go out and buy new equipment in part because they need the extra capacity and in part because they have to start repacking older trucks that are on the road."
Those new truck orders, in turn, are helping drive the ongoing recovery for truck makers. And the fleet expansions have created more jobs for truck drivers. Since early 2010, overall employment in truck transportation is up 13 percent. And the average weekly hours worked in that employment segment is up 6 percent.