Cover Story
Who are they kidding?
Corporate America and their lobbyists want to try and convince lawmakers that increasing truck size and weight is a good idea. Truckers know better.

By Jami Jones
senior editor

 

“Great”  ideas come out of mahogany boardrooms all around the country every day. The suits will slap themselves on the back, crack open a bottle of scotch, and congratulate each other on a job well done.

The hitch with a lot of those “great” ideas is no one ever asks the people who will carry them out if there are any foreseeable problems. The men and women on the front line in any business know it better than corporate America tends to give them credit for. A lot of wasted money and colossal mistakes could have just been avoided if the questions had been asked.

A perfect example of one of those ideas is the recent push for longer, heavier trucks. Corporate America is leaning hard on Congress to up the size and weight limits for heavy-duty trucks on the National Highway System.

Some proposals are pushing for trucks to carry 97,000 pounds plus. Others want to allow double 53-foot trailers to pull down the interstates.

There are problems with upping the size and weight of trucks. Just ask the men and women who spend nearly every day of their lives navigating the highways and byways of the U.S.

The roads can’t handle it
“The roads can’t take it.”

That was a point OOIDA Senior Member Greg Langford of St. Cloud, MN, was quick to point out when Land Line Magazine asked how he felt about longer combination vehicles.

It is a simple known truth. The interstates, roads and bridges are failing. The Highway Trust Fund is broke. There isn’t the money needed to rehab the existing roads to handle the current weight demands.

Corporate America is sugarcoating the added weight by conceding a couple of points. One, they claim that adding another axle will distribute the added weight – softening the blow to the pavement and asphalt below.

While it could help, it won’t alleviate the toll that heavier trucks will take on the aged bridges in the country. No matter how many axles you have, at some point the bridges will bear all the weight of the load – truck after truck after truck.

Pavement fatigue and failure are a reality. The roads are crumbling beneath traffic today. Research from the OOIDA Foundation shows that so many variables are involved with pavement fatigue that the weight of the truck – or more accurately the weight distribution on each axle – is somewhat irrelevant.

See more on the aging highway infrastructure on Page 52.

LCVs will be harder to control
A lot of OOIDA members were quick to point out that driving a truck is challenging enough without added weight or added length.

 “It’s hard enough to get around with the current 53-foot trailers we already have,” OOIDA member and Land Line contributor Jeff Barker pointed out.

The OOIDA Foundation points out that driving a truck in a straight line is one thing, but the game changes when you factor in “off-tracking.”

That’s something that Land Line reader Russell J. Brown, who builds Mack trucks, mentioned. He said it’s simply harder to control a longer combination vehicle.

Off-tracking is when the front wheels on a tractor are on a different path than the rear wheels of the trailer. It is one of the most difficult things to learn when driving a truck. Most intersections are barely able to accommodate 48-foot trailers according to a survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

 “With current designs, less than 25 percent of urban or rural interchanges could handle turnpike doubles,” said Tom Weakley of OOIDA’s Foundation.

Cities and states won’t be too happy with the added costs of repairing shoulders and curbs from longer, heavier truckers trying to negotiate tight intersections into truck stops either.

Longer, heavier trucks are also more likely to roll over and are subject to trailer sway and “rearward amplification,” according to Weakley.

Rollovers are more likely to happen with the combination vehicles because of the connections used between the tractor and the second and/or third trailers, he said.

Longer combinations also contribute to sway. The longer the combination the more significant the sway is, leading to the trucks and trailers encroaching on nearby lanes of traffic.

Rearward amplification happens when there is a sudden steering movement – such as a corrective turn of the wheel.

Simply put, these are situations faced by truckers every day. But adding weight and length will only compound the negative impact of these known dynamics of driving down the road.

Stop and go
Braking distances topped the list of concerns for many OOIDA members and Twitter users following OOIDA and Land Line Magazine.

Jason Cox, who is truckdrivernews on Twitter, saw a lot of problems with longer, heavier trucks being able to stop and go.

 “Who is going to retrain these drivers to haul 97,000 (pounds). An extra axle is not going to get it done alone. (A) driver needs to know how to stop,” Cox wrote.

Couple the need to know how to stop with the fact that many drivers complain that their equipment is not properly maintained by the company and stopping is a real concern.

Surveys in Maryland and California revealed that half of all air-braked vehicles inspected had at least one brake out of adjustment, according to the OOIDA Foundation. FMCSA stats always show that brakes out of adjustment are the most commonly cited vehicle citation.

Getting going on down the road isn’t much better, Cox pointed out.

 “Hard enough to get 80,000 (pounds) up to speed let alone 17,000 more on top of that ... be more wrecks caused by slow moving trucks,” Cox wrote on Twitter.

Weakley said that research proves that crashes are more likely when LCVs travel under the prevailing speed.

So, in addition to being slow moving, merging 120-feet-plus of a tractor with two 53s during rush hour is going to be enough to test even the most seasoned trucker’s skills when four-wheelers fail to recognize the space and time needed to accommodate the merging traffic.

Less fuel? Not hardly
The claims by proponents of longer heavier trucks that less fuel will be burned is based solely on the fact that fewer trucks will be needed to haul freight from point A to point B.

There is no accounting for the reduced fuel mileage experienced in heavy-haul operations.   

Many OOIDA members whose careers are built on heavy-haul scoffed at the notion that the same tractor spec’d to haul 80,000 or so pounds can pull 97,000 plus and save fuel. Most cite 5 to 7 mpg fuel mileage with properly spec’d equipment and care when driving. Anything better, in most cases is a pipe dream.

There is also no acknowledgment that the longer, heavier trucks will serve little more purpose than running relay, making them nothing more than glorified road trains. More trucks will be needed to make the deliveries. Road restrictions make taking a 53-footer around the country for deliveries challenging. There’s no way anything longer than that will get the job done.

Driving the point home
For most of OOIDA members these points are nothing new. They are the day-to-day reality of driving truck.

For lawmakers, some of these points may come as a surprise. That is why OOIDA’s Washington, DC, office has been working hard to oppose legislation introduced to up the weights and lengths of trucks on the interstates.

More importantly, OOIDA has thrown its support between two bills – one in the House and one in the Senate – that lock down the size and weights of trucks and trailers to their current levels.

“OOIDA’s membership has been instrumental in keeping size and weights in check in the past,” said Rod Nofziger, OOIDA’s director of government affairs. “But, this time, there is a lot of money and a lot of effort being put into pressuring lawmakers into increasing size and weights.”

Nofziger said it’s critical for OOIDA members to relay stories and concerns like those mentioned here to lawmakers.

“They have to know the reality on the road,” Nofziger said. “Not just what they are being told by some suits in corporate America.”

See the related story on the SHIPA acts on Page XX. LL

 

jami_jones@landlinemag.com
Land Line News Clerk Kerry-Evans Spillman contributed to this report.