Federal Update
Battle brews about truck weights, lengths

By Jami Jones
senior editor


A pair of senators introduced a bill in mid-May intended to lock in the current weight limit of 80,000 pounds for trucks on U.S. roads.

In addition to keeping the maximum weight at 80,000 pounds, the bill, S3021, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, also seeks to establish a maximum length of 53 feet for trailers.

The bill was introduced the day after a coalition calling for longer and heavier trucks staged a “fly-in” to Washington, DC, to lobby members of Congress.

The group, Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation, lists as members a number of trucking companies and state affiliate programs of the American Trucking Association.

The group is pushing for a new maximum weight of 97,000 pounds.

In the recent lobbying trip, members of the group tried to drum up support for pilot programs allowing the heavier trucks in five states: Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Georgia.

According to its Web site, the group met with “nearly every single congressional office in both the House and Senate” for those five states.

About a week after Lautenberg and McCaskill filed their bill seeking to lock down truck weights and lengths, Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, introduced Senate Bill 3059, which seeks to set up the pilot program.

“Our nation faces record high energy prices, affecting almost every aspect of daily life. The rapidly growing price of diesel is putting an increasing strain on our trucking industry, which is the cornerstone of our economy,” Collins said.

“This legislation would lessen the fuel cost burden on truckers by putting (longer and heavier) trucks back on the federal interstate where they belong.”

Specifically, this bill seeks to:

  • Create a two-year pilot program that would permit trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds to travel on the interstate system whenever diesel prices are at or above $3.50 per gallon.
  • Require the Government Accountability Office to complete a report about safety and other concerns at the completion of the pilot program.

At press time, the bill was in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

On the other side of the fence, Lautenberg is concerned with the negative effects that extra weight would have on the nation’s infrastructure.

“Last year’s tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis demonstrated how fragile our already-deficient bridges and roads are, and we should not be putting even heavier trucks on them. But that is exactly what some trucking company interests are proposing – even bigger and heavier trucks on our roads. If there was ever a recipe for disaster, this is it,” Lautenberg said.

“Our bill would protect our infrastructure and improve safety on our roads by helping keep dangerously large and heavy tractor-trailer trucks off of them.”

Bigger trucks – both heavier and longer ones – present safety risks, including longer stopping distances, increased risk of rollovers, and a greater risk of the last trailer swaying into the adjacent lane, according to Lautenberg’s press release.

Research shows that a 100,000-pound truck with unadjusted brakes travels 25 percent farther after the driver steps on the brakes than an 80,000-pound truck does.

“It defies common sense to let big trucks become super-giant trucks,” McCaskill said. “There are safety considerations along with the reality of increased fuel costs that require us to say no to even bigger commercial trucks on our roads.”

The bill sponsored by McCaskill and Lautenberg seeks to extend the current weight limit and freeze on triple-trailers to the entire 160,000-mile National Highway System. It would still allow for exemptions, including firefighting equipment. LL