Guest Op-Ed: Twin 33s – Trucking Efficiency, On Demand

“On-demand” – two words driving consumer behavior and supply chain efficiency in today’s economy. American families have grown accustomed to receiving their purchases via two-day, next-day, and even same-day delivery. Likewise, businesses are working hard to meet consumer demands. No longer can businesses manufacture products for inventory, planning on long time horizons. The rise of e-commerce and on-demand delivery is good news for American families as it means less time running errands and more time at home.

President Trump and Members of Congress from both parties are rightfully focusing on upgrading our dilapidated infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ report card gives America’s infrastructure a D+. The topline numbers are troubling: in 2014, traffic delays cost $160 billion in wasted time and fuel, drivers spent 6.9 billion hours in traffic, and more than 32,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes.

Yet, the trucks we use to ship our goods – specifically by less than truckload (LTL) carriers – are configured exactly like they were in 1982. Meanwhile, the growing U.S. population – 325 million people, 122.5 million households and 7.5 million businesses – relies on deliveries from America’s trucks. Freight carried by trucks is up 24 percent since 2000 and is expected to increase by another 27 percent over the next decade.

We are long overdue for an upgrade to the policies governing how goods travel on our roads. We may need $1 trillion in improved infrastructure, but there is one policy change which improves economic efficiency, safety, and sustainability at no cost: permitting trucks hauling twin 33 foot trailers to operate on our National Highway Network in all 50 states. Currently 30 states are restricted by the 1982 standard permitting only twin 28’s.

Today’s trucks aren’t your granddad’s trucks, or even your dad’s. Today, the dashboard more resembles a cockpit than a truck. Predictive maintenance technologies keep trucks running reliably. Continuous onboard monitors record and assess driver speeds, hard-braking, and more. Blind spot notifications and emergency braking systems can act autonomously to prevent accidents. New technologies such as forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems mitigate thousands of crashes a year. Washington has not upgraded transport efficiency in decades, but permitting Twin 33s nationwide would be a great place to start.

Twin 33s are just 10 feet longer in total than Twin 28s. Those 10 feet – without any weight limit change – would enable each Twin 33 to carry 18.6 percent more freight volume than a Twin 28. As I detailed in a just-released study with Americans for Modern Transportation, 18.6 percent increased capacity per truck translates into 3.1 billion fewer truck miles. That’s 255 million fewer gallons of fuel and 2.9 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions – which is equal to taking more than half a million cars off of the road. Consumers would be big winners from the $2.6 billion in delivery cost savings.

There are other benefits as well. If Twin 33s had carried 2014’s freight, we would have avoided 4,500 accidents, including 1,264 with injuries or fatalities. Weigh stations would save $5.3 million, permitting 653,000 more trucks to be weighed at the same cost. Our roads and bridges would deal with less wear and tear. Fewer trucks with bigger payloads would reduce the driver shortage while enhancing the quality and rewards of driver jobs.

The trucking industry has come a long way. Rates of crashes causing injuries and fatalities have declined in the last four decades by more than 50 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Truck crash rates are well below those of cars. Ever-emerging safety technologies will further protect motorists. While these technologies mature, Twin 33s provide a sensible, low-tech way to improve safety and efficiency. They won’t just reduce the number of trucks on the road – their extra length improves high-speed dynamics. For example, rearward amplification and the load transfer ratios, two rollover risk factors, are reduced in Twin 33s.

Why has Congress failed to act while other countries like Canada, Mexico, and Australia have embraced trucking efficiencies? Well, change is hard. In 1982, Twin 28s were permitted after decades of only permitting 48 foot single trailers. As the President and Congress consider bold new infrastructure plans, allowing Twin 33s on highways nationwide would boost transport efficiency, sustainability, and safety. American families and businesses demand an upgrade.

Dr. Ron Knipling has 35 years of experience in traffic safety R&D with emphasis on crash risk and motor carrier safety. He has held senior government and academic positions, and is the author of Safety for the Long Haul, the go-to textbook on large truck safety.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Eno Center for Transportation.

For an opposing view, see this guest op-ed.

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