SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA debunks push for bigger, heavier trucks

| 4/1/2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 – Propaganda advocating an increase in the size and weights of trucks allowed on the nation’s highways took a huge blow today when the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association spoke out against the effort at a press conference in Washington, DC.

Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, addressed reporters at a press conference held at the U.S. Capitol by federal lawmakers and various organizations who spoke out against increasing the size and weights of trucks.

Also speaking out at the press conference were Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-NJ; Rep. Jim McGovern, D-MA; Jane Mathis from the Truck Safety Coalition; and Rob McCulloch from Environmental America.

Given the state of the nation’s infrastructure, increasing the size and weights of trucks on the highways is a bad idea, to say the least, according to Spencer.

“OOIDA members know from firsthand experience that further increases in size and weights of commercial motor vehicles can endanger highway users and hasten the deterioration of our nation’s road and bridges,” Spencer said in a press release provided to reporters.

Spencer encouraged support of a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, which seeks to lock down the current size and weight of trucks and trailers.

“The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act” was introduced in mid-March by Rep. McGovern.

The bill, HR1618, seeks to prohibit states from allowing trailers longer than 53 feet to operate on the National Highway System – which includes the Interstate System – unless the state allowed the longer trailers as of June 1, 2008.

It also takes aim at combos by seeking to restrict states to the maximum lengths on the books as of June 1, 2008, as well.

The bill also seeks to freeze the weight limits currently in place as well. The bill aims to prohibit states from allowing weights to exceed interstate weight limits on the Interstate System unless it was lawful on July 1, 1956. In the case of the overall gross weight, the limit of any group of two or more consecutive axles would stay consistent with the weights enacted with the Federal-Aid Highway Amendments of 1974. 
The bill does not eliminate a state’s ability to permit oversize or overweight loads.

The introduction of HR1618, which now has 52 co-sponsors signed on, trumped a planned “fly-in” March 31 through April 1 by several groups. The groups converged on Washington, DC, in support of a bill introduced Monday, March 30, seeking to increase the size and weight allowances on the highway system. The bill is not enjoying the Congressional support of its counterpart – it only has a sponsor and one co-sponsor.

Coalitions such as Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation, Coalition for Transportation Productivity, and AgTec leaned on lawmakers throughout Congress over the past several months, trying to sway them into believing that 97,000-pound, six-axle trucks are the answer to a myriad of problems facing the trucking industry and the nation.

The groups are composed of businesses from heavy commodity industries such as the paper, logging and steel industries, just to name a few, and they are in addition to several mega carriers.

One of the groups, ASET, is even to the point where they are finalizing potential legislative language they are going to shop by members of Congress in an attempt to get it added to the highway funding reauthorization bill being developed right now.

“Increasing allowable vehicle weights from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds may be described by some as a minor change, but could have a dramatic impact on the safety and structural integrity of some federal aid highways,” Spencer told reporters.

OOIDA officials have also pointed out that while it is an established market within the trucking industry, heavy haul isn’t for everyone.

Right now, heavier trucks are a specialized gig that requires an extended level of oversight at the state level through permitting and such. There is a certain amount of investment and business savvy required to compete in that market. As a result, truckers who work heavy haul are experienced, safe drivers.

Spencer pointed out that stability, mobility and maneuverability are substantially reduced on bigger and heavier trucks. 

“The larger and heavier the vehicle, the more problems it has interacting with other vehicles on the highway. Increases to current standards could seriously jeopardize the safety of both automobile and commercial truck drivers,” he said.

Beyond the safety of highway users in and around oversize and overweight trucks, Spencer also points to the toll they will take on the already weakened highway system.

“OOIDA members know that heavier trucks put additional stress on our already deteriorating highways and bridges,” Spencer said.

“If weights are increased, the already limited number of viable routes available to commercial motor vehicles would further be diminished. Efficiency in the trucking industry would be lost, not gained.”

In addition to once again educating the mainstream media and lawmakers on the ills of bumping up size and weight limits, OOIDA is calling on its 160,000-plus membership base to reach out to lawmakers in support of HR1618 and to put the brakes on any movement to increase the weight and size limits.

“OOIDA is a leader in opposing this issue,” OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Rod Nofziger said. “With 160,000 members writing letters, sharing their experiences and concerns and pointing out how wrong this idea is, the better chance we have of putting this issue to rest once again.”

Letters outlining personal experiences with longer or heavier trucks, explaining that upping the weight limits will force small-business operators to upgrade equipment in a down economy, and detailing safety concerns go a long way toward educating lawmakers, Nofziger said.

If you don’t know who your lawmakers in Congress are, you can call OOIDA’s Membership Department at 800-444-5791 and they will look it up for you.

 – By Jami Jones, senior editor