Innovation and infrastructure are key to driving efficiency in trucking industry
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President Trump has rightly pushed for infrastructure investment. However, when viewed through the lens of not just repairing our roads and bridges, but national security, we need more than infrastructure—we need a modern transportation system with new vehicle designs and technologies as well as fuel diversity if we are going to truly secure America.

Most drivers today are unaware that 92 percent of America's transportation is still dependent on oil. This dependence continues to expose our economy and national security to the volatile and opaque global oil market. The threat is particularly challenging in the heavy-duty sector where fuel is a major variable in cost and profitability for drivers and companies. Fortunately, the recent focus on revamping our infrastructure provides a unique opportunity to make three simple fixes to address short, medium and long-term challenges regarding the role of heavy-duty vehicles in securing America through smart transportation policy.

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First, in the short-term, vehicle standards can improve the efficiency of heavy-duty trucking. Performance-based standards are an alternative to existing regulations that govern size and weight restrictions on heavy-duty freight trucks. In particular, these standards allow for flexibility, enhancing industry’s ability to design and manufacture trucks specialized for their intended cargo. An example of design improvements is the growing adoption of two linked 33-foot trailers known as “Twin-33s.” Replacing existing fleets of Twin-28 trailers with Twin-33s will reduce fuel consumption by an estimated 204 million gallons per year, while making our roads safer and preserving the current federal weight limit for trucks.

 

Twin-33s are already allowed on portions of the national road network in 20 states and are an innovative solution to inefficiencies resulting from more and more Americans ordering lighter products—decreasing the number of unnecessary trips by better accommodating buying habits in the modern economy. Fewer trips, and fewer trucks on the road, will mean less congestion and safer driving for everyone. In addition to taking advantage of modern safety equipment, such as ABS and rollover stability control, Twin-33s perform equal to or better than current double trailers in four main measures: static rollover threshold, rearward amplification, load-transfer ratio and high-speed transient off-tracking.

Second, in the medium-term, we should focus on producing more energy domestically and encourage the adoption of alternative fuel vehicles to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Individual states have set up programs that incentivize both state-based exploration and research related to alternative fuels, such as the Oklahoma Alternative Fuels Program, Delaware's Clean Transportation Incentive Program and Pennsylvania's Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program, which could help to reduce oil dependence. Natural gas is a proven substitute for petroleum in the heavy-duty sector and we should do all we can to promote this domestic fuel.

Finally, to best position our transportation system for the long-term future, we need to invest in new technologies and foster a pro-innovation regulatory environment to bring platooning, driverless vehicles and other automated driving technologies onto our roads.

Our economy has been defined by the American entrepreneurial spirit, which continues to drive today's greatest innovators. To address future needs, we must find a way to spur cutting-edge innovation, such as autonomous driving and truck platooning, rather than hinder these efforts with unnecessary red tape.

Additionally, state and federal policies should champion safety innovations, such as vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications systems. Once implemented on a national level, advanced transportation systems, or Smart Road Systems, promise significant improvements to fuel efficiency, road safety, and travel times as a result of reduced congestion.

These policies, combined with renewed investment in our nation's infrastructure, will not only reduce our dependence our oil and improve American national security, but will also bring major economic benefits to a country increasingly reliant on efficient shipping. In 2015, the U.S. freight transportation system moved 18.1 billion tons of goods, worth $19.2 trillion. Over the next 30 years, this tonnage is projected to grow 40 percent, and the value of those goods will increase by 92 percent. This growth has driven a supply-chain change from an inventory based "manufacture-to-supply" model to a replenishment-based "manufacture-to-order" model.

Today, more businesses than ever before are relying on the productivity of the transportation system to rapidly move their supply to meet rising consumer demand. As more Americans rely on our nation’s infrastructure system, the need for roadway investment and trucking industry innovations will continue to grow.

John W. Handy is a retired United States Air Force four-star general. Among his many senior posts, General Handy was commander of U.S. Transportation Command. He is also a member of the Energy Security Leadership Council, a group of Fortune 500 CEOs and retired Four-star generals that advocates for policies to reduce the country’s over-reliance on petroleum.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.