1. History of Trucking Regulation Through the 1980s
Trucking began in earnest in the United States during the prosperous
postwar 1920s, 20 particularly as the nation’s transportation infrastructure
improved and technology made truck transportation safer, efficient, and more
comfortable. 21 As more-efficient diesel engines began replacing gas engines,
the cost of shipping goods by truck declined even more, increasing the supply
of trucks on the road. 22 Attempts at regulation began shortly thereafter, in
1926, 23 spurred on by concerns over safety risks. 24 Regulations based on
safety concerns might have been narrowly tailored to address the negative
externalities of large trucks on the road, but the motivations for regulating
trucking went much further. Some argued that Congress had a duty to
regulate trucking in order to assure stability and growth in the transportation
sector. 25 Of particular note is that the latter argument implicates no potential
market failures, 26 while concerns regarding safety were vague at that early
stage, virtually guaranteeing that the regulations would fail to be narrowly
Had the early efforts at regulation succeeded, then, the trucking industry
might have been plagued with government failures from the very beginning.
Instead, it took until the Motor Carrier Act of 193527 (MCA 1935) before the
20. RONALD G. ADAMS, 100 YEARS OF SEMI TRUCKS (2000).
21. Trucks became larger, improving efficiency, and pneumatic tires (replacing hard
rubber tires) and enclosed cabs increased driver comfort. Id.
22. Richard F. Weingroff, The Federal Highway Administration at 100, U.S. DEP’T
TRANSP., FED. HIGHWAY ADMIN. (Autumn 1993),
23. John J. George, Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1935, 21 CORNELL L. REV. 249 (1936).
24. Efforts at federal regulation were jump-started by the U.S. Supreme Court who, in
1925, stripped the states of their ability to regulate interstate movement, especially relating to
restrictions prohibiting competition. Buck v. Kuykendall, 267 U.S. 307 (1925). This decision
also invalidated insurance requirements and service standards.
25. JOHN M. MECK & ROBERT W. BOGUE, FEDERAL REGULATION OF MOTOR CARRIER
UNIFICATION (1941). The government was concerned with the effect of what it considered
predatory pricing and unscrupulous business practices. WILLIAM J. AUGELLO,
TRANSPORTATION, LOGISTICS AND THE LAW 33 (2001). Without regulation, there was easy
entry and exit to the market, leading to high numbers of trucks on the road, many operating at
far less than full capacity. Dempsey, supra note 17, at 281. As stated by one federal regulator:
“The most important thing, I think, is the prevention of an oversupply of transportation; in
other words an oversupply which will sap and weaken the transportation system rather than
strengthen it.” William E. Thoms, Rollin’ On . . . To a Free Market Motor Carrier Regulation
1935-1980, 13 TRANSP. L.J. 43, 48 (1983).
26. This justification appears to be based on little more than distrust of market
mechanisms, but fear of market failure is not evidence of market failure. Slower-than-expected
economic growth could be the result of a market failure, but it could also be the result of bad
expectations. In other words, it is a symptom, at best, and responsible regulation would require
evidence of an actual market failure.
27. Motor Carrier Act of 1935, Pub. L. 74-255, 49 Stat. 543 (1935) (amended 1975). The
fight for passage of the MCA 1935 was intense, generating over 600 pages of testimony.