Update Regulations to Keep U.S. Economy Rolling

Driving a semi-truck is gritty, and often thankless hard work, and it’s getting harder all the time. The hours seem never-ending; truckers are away from home and their families for long stretches; and not surprisingly the federal government has made the job harder with a variety of maximum time and rest break rules – now electronically monitored – that don’t really take the practicalities of trucking into account. Because of these reasons, and many other issues facing the freight shipping industry, it’s becoming even harder to recruit new truckers.


This is a big problem – for businesses, for freight shippers, for truck drivers, and for consumers.


Let’s keep in mind a very good thing: the economy is booming. And freight shippers move nearly 70% of the tonnage shipped in the United States, so truckers and would-be truckers have more options.


But that means shipping companies are getting squeezed on one side or the other. They have to pay truckers more and they get less for what they’re paying because of the new compliance rules. (And independent truckers are seeing their billable road hours slashed by these rules.)


It’s no surprise then that shipping companies are responding by hiking rates, which raises the cost of shipping goods and leads to longer wait times. Even Amazon orders are lagging and delayed, as all you Amazon Prime customers may have noticed. Your membership was hiked $20 from higher costs being passed on to you.


Moreover, we know this is only going to get worse. The average age of truckers is 49 years old, versus 42 years old for the general American workforce. Trucking is wearing on bodies, meaning that there will be a lot more retirements sooner than we might expect. With a wave of retirements coming and few new truckers to replace the current truckers, even the current level of shipping will be unsustainable.


But wait, that’s not all! Current shipping levels are not likely to stay level. Between 2002 and 2016, American e-commerce ballooned from $42 billion to $292 billion and seems to be on a long-term upswing. That “stuff” you’re ordering online – items ranging from groceries, to diapers, to furniture and electronics, and clothes – have to be shipped to your doorstep. In 2016, an estimated 11.5 billion – with a B – tons of goods were shipped this way.


However, the trucking industry itself projects that it’s going to fall tens of thousands of drivers short of meeting shipping demand. Any technical solutions are going to be a long time coming and some with their own safety and regulatory tangles.


This might all seem hopeless, like we are simply going to be relegated to a future of higher prices and worse service. Fortunately, there is an easy and meaningful fix that can help ease the stress felt by America’s small businesses, truck drivers, consumers – and even the environment and our roadways and infrastructure.


Congress could pass legislation updating a 35-year old federal regulation and allow for what are called “Twin 33s.” Currently, parcel delivery tandem trailers (ones commonly used to ship your goods purchased through e-commerce) are limited to two trailers, 28-feet in length each. Congress could allow two longer trailers, 33-feet in length instead.


This change to a 35-year-old outdated regulation would increase shipping capacity and efficiency by 18 percent per truck route in one fell swoop. Updating the regulation does face some pushback from unions and other industries who don’t want more efficient trucking taking a bite out of their profits. Some critics charge that Twin 33s would add wear-and-tear on roads, but it would likely have the opposite effect. Current tandem trailer weight limits would remain as is, and, in many cases, the loads would be spread out over two extra axles.


Simply put, Twin 33s mean less highway congestion, more efficient deliveries, lower costs to consumers, lower costs on businesses and freight shippers, less fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, less wear and tear on U.S. highways and infrastructure, and easier delivery routes on our hardworking truck drivers. Really, what’s not to like here?


This should be a no-brainer to address our on-going freight shipping crisis. Twin 33s are a simple update to a regulation that was put in place before most of us had ever heard of e-commerce, and how it might reshape the retail world. And Twin 33s would give the trucking industry some much needed breathing room to start addressing some of the other structural problems facing an industry thirsty for new drivers and those wanting to make a career in the industry more desirable.


Lastly – and maybe most importantly – this is an update that would cost American taxpayers absolutely nothing. Zero. Not a dime. Twin 33s are a win for the economy, businesses, and consumers. They are a win for the trucking industry. And a win for the Administration and their infrastructure goals. Isn’t this what all that winning should look like?


Zach Almond is the former Chairman of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans and the founder of Uwharrie Consulting.