Arguably no image is more closely associated with trucking than a driver with a CB radio in one hand and the steering wheel in the other as the truck roars down the highway.
Citizens band, or CB, radio, has been around since the 1940s but was popularized in the 1970s by movies like “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Breaker! Breaker!” and “Convoy.”
While CB radios are almost synonymous with the commercial trucking industry in the public imagination, trucking companies are not actually required by law to have one in each of their trucks.
“CBs are not and have never been ‘mandated,’ but carriers and drivers still use them occasionally as they are exempt from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s smartphone ‘two-button press’ regulation,” said Dan Murray, senior vice president at the American Transportation Research Institute.
In the past, truckers often used CB radios as a way to communicate everything from where “Smokey” was hiding and waiting to hand out speeding tickets, to the location of accidents on the road, to complaints about their companies, marriage woes, and more.
FreightWaves recently conducted several surveys about CB radio usage among truckers. More than 32% of respondents said they still use CB radios all the time while driving, while 32% said they rarely use them. More than 17% of respondents said they never use the devices while driving.
So technological advances in GPS systems and the advent of smartphones and social media did not, after all, mean CB radios were all headed for the landfill.
“I won’t roll without one. A lot of people keep it on, but say almost nothing. The negative crap you hear about is once in a while in bigger city areas, and I just ignore them,” one truck driver said in a survey response. “Having a radio has saved me from being stuck behind wrecks and wasting hours, and at least once saved my life.”
Other respondents said there’s too much negative chatter on CB channels.
“Every time I turn it on, I turn it off 10 minutes later because the toxic crap someone starts to let out,” another driver said.
Other responses included:
- “I run oversized with escorts, so I have to have one. When I’m empty I still run it just in case. I also run a VHF radio and I communicate with my steer using that. Much less interference and longer range. More and more oversized drivers and escorts are beginning to use that.”
- “They are a necessity for gravel trucks and oversize guys, everyone else just talks smack or warns drivers about road conditions/wrecks/lane closures.”
- “It depends on the type of truck. Oilfield, dump trucks, and scrap haulers will always have CBs, because they use them to communicate with loader operators and scale houses.”
- “I use it when traffic stops or I’m at a shipper. Got tired of road rage and weird stuff over CB.”
- “I always have mine on in case someone tells me about some hazard ahead or to communicate during traffic caused by a crash. But I don’t casually talk to people on it.”
- “My trainer had a CB. It was annoying the entire time and that probably turned me off forever.”
- “Seems the younger the driver, the less likely they’ll have a CB radio. I have one, but only because it was a gift from my late uncle who believed every driver needs one. I have only turned it on twice within a couple months. That said, it’s invaluable when traffic is stalled and you don’t know why. When I see a hazard on the opposite side of the interstate, I shout it out for a few miles over the CB to warn other drivers.”
It used to be that truckers used handles when they talked on the radio. Truckers also had their own lingo to describe everything from the type of trucks on the road to nicknames for police.
According to FreightWaves research, some of the truck driver CB radio lingo from the past included:
- Alligator: blown tire in road.
- Back off the hammer: slow down.
- Bear: police officer.
- Blew my doors off: passed with great speed.
- Care bear: construction police.
- Cash register: toll booth.
- Chicken coop: weigh station.
- Comic book: trucker’s log book.
- CB Rambo: all talk, no show.
- 10-4: OK copy.
- 10-10 on the side: cease talking but continue to listen.
- 10-20: location.
- 10-33: emergency.