Bigger, longer and heavier trucks a bonehead idea, panel told

| Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Members of the House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines heard testimony in Sanford, FL, March 24 on proposals to enhance safety – but some, including the AAA and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, think the proposals would actually result in unsafe conditions.

Rep. Thomas E. Petri, R-WI, chairman of the subcommittee, and Rep. John L. Mica, R-FL, conducted the hearing. Mica is the senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Splitting speed limits for trucks and cars, relegating trucks to the right lane and permitting larger, heavier and longer trucks to operate on the nation’s highways were among the ideas.

"Some in the trucking industry promote the idea that 'bigger is better' when it comes to meeting the demands of moving freight. AAA will vigorously oppose such action,” said Kevin Bakewell, senior vice president of the AAA Auto Club South, the regional AAA club representing Florida, Georgia and western Tennessee.

“Larger, longer and heavier trucks create serious safety hazards and accelerate the deterioration of highway pavement and bridges. An 80,000-pound semi-trailer truck places a load equal to 9,600 cars on the roads. Adding 15,000 pounds to that can double the amount of damage to the nations' highways," Bakewell added.

Meanwhile, in comments to the committee, OOIDA member Paul Sasso, Edgewater, FL, who attended the hearing, said: “Each year, 5,000 people are killed and 100,000 are injured in crashes with heavy trucks. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2000 Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study confirmed that making trucks longer and heavier would only increase those numbers.”

Sasso added: “Split speed limits and restricted lanes are quite simply counterproductive on the overall scope of safety. Longer and heavier vehicles are not an answer to the safety problem … these vehicles do not benefit anyone but the shippers and receivers.”

The core issue, Sasso said, is that training standards are not motivated by safety, but by economics – the bottom line.

“There is no way that someone in three weeks or less can acquire even the most basic skills necessary to safely operate a CMV on our nation’s roadways,” he said. “Yet there are some groups that put forth the proposition that entry-level training standards should be left up to the companies.”

Sasso also took issue with Rep. Mica’s recent proposal to eliminate trucks from the Orlando area during peak traffic periods.

“Loss of productivity is the biggest issue in trucking today,” Sasso said. “The most important issue concerning safety is the many hours, 30 to 40 each week, that a driver spends uncompensated in the course of duty. This ranges from filling out paperwork to waiting at docks. This is uncompensated time and it contributes to fatigue – which is one of the leading causes of accidents among all drivers.”

OOIDA backs SHIPA

The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act was introduced in the previous Congress as H.R. 3132. It will soon be reintroduced, according to press reports.

“This bill would extend existing, common sense limits on truck size and weight to the entire National Highway System,” Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president, said. “SHIPA would also close loopholes in the law that allow the proliferation of overweight truck operations.”

AAA’s Bakewell said, "The bill does not roll back current state laws; rather, it shifts to Congress an appropriate national jurisdiction over any proposed increases affecting the National Highway System."

Bakewell added, "What we clearly do need is assistance from Congress toward better enforcement and stiffer penalties for those who violate the existing federal limitations. In Florida and other states, penalties for illegal operation of overweight trucks have become nothing more than a cost of doing business."

The fines have not been increased since 1953, he added.

Meanwhile, in Florida, two legislators have already introduced legislation to increase penalties for overweight trucks. They are Rep. Ed Jennings, D-Gainesville, who introduced HB503, and Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, who introduced SB202.

-- Dick Larsen, senior editor

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