A Small Change to Make Trucking More Efficient
Moving massive quantities of goods to store shelves, or parts and equipment to manufacturers, is a complex undertaking. Improvements to the process, even the smallest efficiencies, can translate into big savings for the nation's small businesses and consumers.
Innovations such as computerized tracking and real-time traffic information have been helpful. Another way to improve efficiency is to slightly expand the length of "less than truckload" (LTL) shipping trailers. These are the shorter trailers used by trucking companies that specialize in combining multiple customers' shipments to fill an entire trailer. We usually see these trailers pulled in pairs along our nation's highways.
There is an effort underway in Congress to increase the maximum trailer length from 28 feet to 33 feet while leaving intact restrictions on the weight of the trailers. This legislation would make shipping more efficient and less expensive for small businesses, and it could reduce the number of trailers and trucks needed to move goods across the country and across town. Consequently, fewer miles would be driven and fewer gallons of fuel would be used.
The benefits of modernizing the rules are significant. Fewer trucks on the road would ease traffic congestion. Our highway and bridge infrastructure -- already in dire need of attention -- would get needed relief with fewer trucks on the road that adhere to current weight restrictions. Most drivers would not notice this modest increase in length. We already are accustomed to trailers as long as 53 feet, mostly used for FTLs (full-truckload shippers that fill the entire trailer). Slightly longer trailers could be safer, according to a study conducted by John Woodrooffe at the University of Michigan, because the extended wheelbase would make them more stable.
Those extra five feet could make a big difference in the industry and in the prices we eventually pay for shipped goods. Most LTL shipments are shrink-wrapped onto pallets that measure 40 by 48 inches. Extending trailers by five feet would allow room for two more pallets, so tandems would allow 18 percent more volume. It's almost like shipping two extra pallets for free, because most loads fill the trailer before they reach the weight limit. As a result, that efficiency would benefit the more than 9 million daily consumers of LTL freight transportation as well as shippers.
As the population and the economy continue to grow, it is critical that we embrace ways to make LTL trucking -- really, the circulatory system of the daily economy -- more efficient. Lengthening trailers by just five feet would have value for everyone from the parent hitting the corner market to the small manufacturer who needs parts delivered on time and with less cost.
Over the years Congress has modified highway legislation and regulations to keep up with the times. Standard FTL trailers once were 40 feet long, but they have incrementally increased to the current 53-foot standard.
Science and data support the benefits of longer LTL trailers, from road and bridge infrastructure to highway safety and transportation productivity. It's time for Congress to update the 1982 regulations that have limited LTL trailers to 28 feet. Twin 33-foot trailers are a commonsense solution for 21st-century businesses and our economy.
Karen Kerrigan is president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.