Economic hardships have caused many industries to implement moneysaving or profit growing changes to survive. The trucking industry is no different, and its campaign for higher truck weight limits is one way it has chosen to combat rising fuel prices. However, in this instance safety may be at odds with bottom line.
Truck Weight Limit Increase
U.S. trucking companies and other freight haulers have urged Congress to reevaluate the 80,000-pound weight regulation of commercial trucks that has been in place for 37 years. A coalition of over 150 companies is pushing for the weight limit to be 97,000 pounds – a nearly 25 percent increase from current limit. There is a safe weight-to-axle ratio, so trucks carrying the larger loads would most likely have to be built longer to accommodate a sixth axle.
A pilot program of these nearly 100,000-pound trucks ran last year in Maine and Vermont, where the larger trucks were allowed to travel on the federal interstates. Since the end of the pilot, both Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont have advocated making the weight exception permanent in their states.
The senators have found support in the Obama administration, which favors getting big trucks off local roads and improving the efficiency of trucking operations.
The two senators and other proponents of the increase say the higher weight limit would
- Lower fuel costs
- Cut labor costs
- Lessen gas emissions by allowing more goods to be transported in fewer trips
- Encourage truckers to drive on interstates and avoid narrower local and state highways, thereby possibly increasing safety
Weight Increase Could be Extremely Dangerous
Nearly 5000 people are killed in commercial truck accidents every year. Almost 98 percent of those fatalities are of the driver of the non-commercial vehicle. This extraordinarily high fatality rate is primarily due to the massive size disparity between trucks and passenger vehicles – trucks are 16 times larger – and trucks’ lack of maneuverability. The 25 percent increase in weight could further lessen the survivability of a truck-involved accident and will definitely decrease the truck’s maneuverability. Heavier trucks would also take longer to stop, increasing risk of accidents, and would have more trouble merging. Although higher weights may discourage truck drivers from driving on smaller roads and through cities, opponents believe the danger on the interstates will be significantly increased.
Opponents of the truck weight limit cite several issues with the increase in addition to the perils of fatal accidents involving trucks 20 times the size of cars. Heftier trucks could do disproportionately more damage to the roads, costing far more in subsequent repairs than might be saved by running fewer trucks.
Massachusetts Representative James McGovern says, “The idea of putting a ‘mini-train’ on the road is insane. I am not against the trucking industry. But we don’t need heavier and longer trucks. It destroys our infrastructure and is more costly and more dangerous.” The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT) agrees, saying increasing truck weights would undermine the nation’s investment in roads and rails.
Heavier trucks would produce a safety hazard on bridges as well. The Federal Highway Administration stated that nearly 25 percent of bridges in the U.S. are rated “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” CABT said in 2006 the cost of repairing bridges was $188 million, which does not include potential costs associated with updating bridges to accommodate these enormous trucks or the cost of damage from heavier trucks.
Interestingly, both proponents and opponents use increased safety and decreased cost to fuel their opposing arguments. Congress will have to weigh all the projections to determine the best route for the nation and for every driver on the road.
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