SPECIAL REPORT: Senators want truck weights kept at 80,000 pounds

| 5/20/2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 – A pair of senators have introduced a bill 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.

Regardless of whether the lobbying effort gains any support in Congress, it’s apparent that opponents to longer and heavier trucks had their message heard loud and clear. Those opponents did not let the members of the fly-in have sole say on the issue.

A number of groups voiced strong opposition to the group’s proposal. Among those speaking out against longer and heavier trucks was Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“OOIDA members know from firsthand experience that further increases in sizes and weights of commercial motor vehicles can endanger highway users and hasten the deterioration of our nation’s roads and bridges,” Spencer said in a prepared statement.

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

Concern about the negative impact on the nation’s infrastructure was echoed in a press release issued by Lautenberg’s office announcing the bill.

“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.”

Spencer went on to explain 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, he said.

“Increases to current standards could seriously jeopardize the safety of both automobile and commercial truck drivers,” Spencer said.

Bigger trucks – both heavier and longer ones – present safety risks, including longer stopping distances, bigger risk of rollover 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 further after the driver steps on the brakes than an 80,000-pound truck.

“It defies common sense to let big trucks become super-giant trucks. Missouri drivers are already stressed by the presence of so many big 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 seeks to extend the current weight limit and freeze on triple-trailers to the entire 160,000-mile National Highway System, while still allowing exemptions, including for firefighting equipment. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor