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Are larger semi-trucks coming soon?

Trucks may soon extend to 33 feet.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

July 15 was dubbed "Christmas in July." To commemorate its 20th birthday, ecommerce giant Amazon held a one-day sale that they said was larger than their typical Black Friday offerings. In their 20 years of existence, Amazon has upended traditional shopping methods as many consumers find it easier to shop from the comforts of home.

As a response, many other large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Gap, Best Buy and Microsoft, all held their own sales. Despite some complaints over the sale's items on social media, Jeff Bezos' company announced its sale was larger than Black Friday. In a statement, Amazon announced shoppers ordered 398 items per second and 34.4 million items in total.

Of course, all that online shopping entails some busy days in July for truck drivers and especially logistics management companies who have to ensure customers receive their items within the guaranteed two days. This is just a glimpse into a large debate within the industry.

The call for longer semi-trailers
To help transport more goods in one trip, some truckload carrier CEOs are calling for government officials to allow for longer trucks. This would increase efficiency. According to Philadelphia Media Network, federal law – in place since 1982 – currently mandates double trailers reach a length of 28 feet. The hope is to extend them to 33 feet. The provision may be included in the next highway bill.

Some of the nation's largest carriers are on board with the new proposal – FedEx and UPS. They, along with other carriers, have formed the Coalition for Efficient and Responsible Trucking. Every truck has a weight limit, and as a result, they are often filled up before reaching the maximum capacity. Time, resources and space are therefore wasted. Longer trucks do not necessarily equate to heavier vehicles.

"Prominent truck carriers wish to extend trailer size to 33 feet."

The Coalition's spokesperson, Ed Patru, said the impact of double trailers would be noticeable. Approximately 6.6 million trips would be cut per year because truck capacity would increase by as much as 18 percent. The safety of every driver will also be increased due to less congestion. Patru said highway accidents would decrease by about 900 per year.

Smaller carriers oppose measure
Large trucking carriers are not the only firms within the industry. Some carriers may have a more regional market. According to DCVelocity, 15 CEOs have asked the U.S. Senate to oppose longer semi-trailers. They wrote a letter to politicians, stating that allowing for longer trucks would make it more difficult for small carriers to compete.

Their current argument incorporates old highway designs. They said that current road infrastructure was not designed to even handle today's truck lengths. In fact, opponents said highways were configured to handle vehicles 10 feet shorter than today's regulations. 

Opponents are also worried about the safety implications. Joan Claybrook, chairwoman of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, told Philadelphia Media Network she believed longer trucks could endanger motorists.

"What we're talking about is people's lives," she said in an interview.

Future proceedings
The debate over this measure will continue to play out in the coming months. One prominent voice has emerged as a supporter for longer semi-trailers. Former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Mark Rosenker called the proposed measure sound public policy, according to DCVelocity. He added that longer trucks will mean less degrading of roads, in addition to fewer vehicles traveling. Above all, fewer trucks likely means lower fuel costs and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

"Longer trucks may make it harder for smaller carriers to compete."

However, the trucking industry is guaranteed to see more semi-trailers hit the road in the future. In 2013, the Federal Highway Administration estimated by 2040, the weight of domestic shipments will total 18 billion tons. Financially, that will equate to $19 trillion worth of goods being moved by trucks.

Today's discussions within the trucking industry will no doubt play an effect on future trucking shipments.