Modern commerce relies on high-volume cargo transportation. Huge trailers towed behind powerful trucks are a common sight on the highway, hauling cargo across the country. Whether you know them as 18-wheelers, semis, tractor-trailers or another term, you're almost certainly familiar with them, but how much do you really know about these trucks? Check out some fun facts and interesting history about trailer trucks in the United States.

Where does the term "tractor trailer" come from, anyways?

Originally, the term "tractor trailer" was used to refer to tractors and the trailers they would tow around farms and ranches. When special trucks were developed and those trailers hit the highways, the term "tractor trailer" stuck. Despite the significant difference between antique tractors and modern trailer-hauling trucks, many people still refer to the units as tractor trailers.

Trailer truck styles:

While most modern trailer trucks are similarly styled, with the engine sitting ahead of the cab much like a regular car or truck, there was a time when a different design was more popular on the roads. Restrictions on the overall length of a truck and trailer combination left manufacturers struggling to find ways produce shorter trucks that could be paired with longer trailers. Thus, the Cabover truck was born. Cab Over Engine (or COE) trucks were designed with the cab sitting on top of the engine, making for a tall but much less lengthy truck. The short length of COE trucks, as well as the light weight of their aluminum body construction, allowed them to tow longer trailers and heavier weights, which made them incredibly popular within the segment.

Cabover cons:

Although the length restrictions on trailer trucks made COE's desirable, the design had its shortcomings. The design often left the driver sitting directly on top of the front axle, which made for a rough ride and some negative health effects on career truck drivers. In addition to the less than savory ride quality, the height of cabin made getting in and out difficult, and drivers frequently slipped and fell down from the cab. Overall, the COE truck's popularity was definitely due to the regulations on trailer truck length, and not its comfort or practicality.

The fall of the COE truck:

In 1982, the Federal Aid Highway Act changed the face of trucking. Tractor trailer length regulations now applied only to the length of the trailer, taking the size of the truck component out of the equation. With this change, the main appeal of the Cabover became essentially obsolete, and traditional "long nose" trucks with the cab sitting behind the engine began to take over the industry. Today, the COE truck is still in use in many European countries, where there are regulations in effect similar to the ones that initially popularized the COE in the United States. Fortunately for European truck drivers, improvements have been made to the COE's suspension and overall design, so modern Cabovers offer a far more comfortable drive. Some even feature built-in sleeper cabs for long journeys.

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