Congress can help make freight transportation safer and more efficient

According to data released last week, holiday shopping sales in 2014 grew. That’s good news for the economy, and it suggests American consumers are feeling optimistic about the future. But behind the scenes, the uptick in sales was made possible by the dedicated men and women who make our modern transportation sector function. As our economy continues to turn the corner, we must ensure these workers are equipped to meet growing demand in a way that is not only more efficient than it’s been in the past, but also safe. 

One area on which Congress should focus is the less than truckload (LTL) freight market. LTL freight is responsible for serving more than 9 million customers every day across the U.S. Professional drivers rely on twin trailers which measure 28 feet – significantly shorter than the full-length or “long haul” 53-foot trailers many motorists are familiar seeing – to take goods from manufacturers to distribution centers and on to retail outlets. As the demand for LTL freight delivery continues to grow, the industry has adopted significant safety upgrades, yet the sector hasn’t realized commensurate gains in productivity. 

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Later this year, Congress will consider an important proposal which would significantly increase efficiency without reducing safety. Federal law currently limits twin trailers to the aforementioned 28-foot length, however, a modest extension of five feet per trailer would result in significant efficiency improvements. 

The math is straightforward. Five extra feet would allow each trailer to carry an additional pallet of goods, an 18 percent expansion of volume. Without changing any weight limits or relaxing any safety standards, we can reduce traffic congestion by removing 1 out of 9 trucks from our roads and highways. 

The trucking industry wouldn’t be adversely affected as the industry can barely keep up with existing driver shortages. 

Moreover, the reduction of LTL travel would directly benefit the environment by reducing the amount of diesel fuel means less pollution. Utilizing data from the federal Department of Transportation, conservative estimates indicate this change would result in a reduction of at least 4.4 billion pounds of carbon emissions each year. 

Perhaps most importantly, the congestion relief will directly impact every American driver as the proposal would reduce the number of trucks on the road. In fact, it is estimated we would reduce trucking trips by 6.6 million per year and miles driven by 1.3 billion per year which also translates to 912 fewer crashes on our highways. 

Research has also shown 5 extra feet on twin trailers could provide increased stability when in use, resulting in improved manageability for truck drivers. By slightly increasing the design length, the extended wheelbase increase stability and improve handling. 

Fewer trucks, fewer trailers, less gasoline, less wear on our roadways and most importantly, less congestion represents a win-win for us all. 

Let us work with our lawmakers on Capitol Hill to approve the regulations which ensure the LTL industry continues to meet demands in a safe, efficient and environmentally-conscious manner. It is the right way to start the New Year – with the gift of productivity, environmental benefits, and increased safety for us all. 

McCown is the former general counsel at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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