The U.S. trucking industry has vastly improved its safety and efficiency over recent decades.
Technological advancements and safety improvements have led to a 75-percent decline in large truck fatal crash rates since the 1970s. When compared to the road miles they cover, freight trucks are under-involved in crashes. In fact, as my 2016 study found, the truck involvement rate in injury crashes is just one-third that of passenger cars.
Cutting-edge technologies — from automatic braking and electronic stability control to lane departure and forward collision warning systems — ensure that our roads are safer than ever before. Yet, there is more we can do to improve safety and efficiency even as our nation faces ever-increasing traffic and beleaguered highway infrastructure.
A policy proposal under consideration by Congress would allow lengthening of twin trailers from 28-to-33 feet. Twin 33s are already allowed and used successfully in twenty U.S. states. Allowing twin 33s nationwide would increase efficiency, resulting in fewer trucks on the road and enhancing safety for motorists across the country.
Allowing these higher-capacity trailers would enable shippers to meet growing consumer demands for near instantaneous delivery, an established trend that will only increase in coming years. According to the Department of Transportation, U.S. freight volumes over the next 30 years will grow by nearly 50 percent — with trucks moving 70 percent of this cargo.
A shift to twin 33s would help shippers deliver goods more efficiently, eliminating roughly 6 million truck trips, reducing fuel consumption by more than 200 million gallons, and lowering carbon emissions by 4.4 billion pounds annually. Those fuel and emissions savings would be like taking more than half a million passenger cars off of the roadways.
As with any policy change challenging the status quo, there is a fair amount of misinformation emanating from entrenched special interests. Almost any increase in efficiency will be opposed by those whose methods and operations are inherently less efficient. Most of this misguided criticism fails to recognize the cost savings and efficiencies that a twin-33 shift would introduce. For instance, some detractors decry modest increases in infrastructure costs associated with freight consolidation into fewer trucks.
In reality, the proposed change to allow twin 33s nationwide does not impact the maximum allowable truck weight—80,000 pounds—the primary cause of infrastructure wear. Nearly 16-percent fewer twin trailer trucks would be needed to transport the equivalent volume of goods, reducing the overall strain on traffic and our overall transport system.
Unfounded safety concerns are also being hyped by those looking to halt or slow the march of progress. In truth, twin 33s are actually safer than their smaller, 28-foot counterparts. Research has shown a generally inverse relation between twin trailer length and risk because increased length improves stability and reduces the likelihood of rollovers or jackknifes. Twin-trailer trucks, in general, have among the lowest crash rates in the trucking industry.
Switching to twin 33s nationwide would make our roads safer, alleviate traffic and congestion, enable shippers to meet the growing demands of American consumers, and contribute to a cleaner future and a more sustainable highway network.
Congress can and should move forward with a proposal to allow the use of twin 33s nationwide. Doing so would instantly add much-needed capacity to our transportation system while enhancing safety, lowering costs, increasing efficiency, and improving air quality. It’s a win-win-win-win!
Dr. Ron Knipling has over 35 years’ experience in traffic safety and is the author of “Safety for the Long Haul: Large Truck Crash Risk, Causation, & Prevention.”
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.