The trucking industry’s long, strange trip to a driver shortage… and how to solve it


When the Grateful Dead released their 1970 hit song “Truckin,’” they told millions of Americans to “just keep truckin’ on.” In 2018, however, it appears that message has been lost on younger generations as America faces down an unprecedented shortage of truck drivers.


In the changing U.S. economy, fewer and fewer people are looking to move into the profession, and an aging workforce can only keep up for so long in the increasingly demanding trucking industry. Specifically, over the last year, the driver shortage has hovered around 50,000-60,000 drivers, and the outlook isn’t improving going forward. According to the American Trucking Association, that shortage could balloon up to 175,000 drivers by 2026.


It couldn’t come at a worse time either.


According to the U.S. Census bureau, e-commerce sales are consistently trending upwards. In Q2 of 2018 alone, e-commerce sales were estimated to have increased over 15% from a year prior. Naturally, with such an uptick in online shopping, truckers and the shipping industry in general are feeling the effects as well.


There are several solutions that people have thrown around to try and address this timely issue. As you might expect, the trucking industry has started to look outside of the typical demographics for truck drivers – older, white males – to try and recruit new blood. They have also begun to offer greater incentives and benefits to drivers in an attempt to attract additional workers.


However, as I’ve discussed again and again, there’s something much easier that could be done: legalizing Twin 33s nationwide. For those unaware, “Twin 33s” refers to a tandem truck design that hitches two 33-foot trailers together. If you live in Florida, you’ve probably already seen these trucks on the road.


Legalizing Twin 33s would require extending the current national size limit for tandem trailers by a few feet, but it would allow trailers to carry around 20% more goods. It’s worth noting that changing the law wouldn’t have an effect on the weight limits for trucks, meaning these trailers would only provide more space for the kinds of smaller, lighter products folks are buying online.


If you’re like me when I first read about Twin 33s, you might not initially be all that enthralled by improving the regulations around tandem trailers. However, as a free-market conservative, I was curious about the ripple effects the trucking shortage would have in the economy as a whole. Basic economics tells us that a lack of supply can lead to increased prices or other inefficiencies, which is exactly what has happened.


Consumers are already bearing the cost of the shortage through increased shipping prices and reduced service, which isn’t getting any better in the short-term. As a last-minute Christmas shopper, and I doubt I’m the only one, these issues are not a welcome sign as we enter the Holiday season.


Yet, beyond the impact on consumers, American small businesses from retailers to regional shipping companies are feeling the same effects due to the shortage. In a community like mine where small business is the lifeblood for many of my neighbors, it becomes clearer and clearer why something has to be done about this issue before it’s too late.


Legalizing Twin 33s nationwide is a free-market approach that wouldn’t raise taxes on a single hard-working American, while solving many of the far-reaching problems associated with the trucker shortage. Around my neck of the woods, that’s what we’d call common sense.


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