SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA again battles push for longer, heavier trucks

| 7/9/2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 – If you thought that the debate about allowing longer, heavier trucks on the nation’s highways was settled, think again.

A series of recent events in Washington, DC, put the issue squarely back on the table.

In mid-May, a lobbying group, made up of a variety of businesses and state affiliates of the American Trucking Association, started pushing for a pilot program to allow longer and heavier trucks.

Then in late May and early June, U.S. senators introduced legislation on both sides of the issue – one bill calling for a lockdown on truck weights and freeze of trailer lengths at 53 feet and another bill seeking to establish a pilot program allowing longer and heavier trucks in a number of states.

As with any issue or legislation pertaining to trucking, the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit weighed into the fray and gathered information at a hearing on the issue today.

And, once again, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was there laying out the numerous reasons that longer and heavier trucks are not a good idea.

Testifying on behalf of OOIDA was senior member Bill Farrell, the owner of Bill Farrell LLC based in Missoula, MT.

“Truckers such as 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,” Farrell told committee members. “As such, OOIDA has long been an opponent of increases to federal truck size or weight standards.”

Farrell was quick to debunk arguments used by advocates to push for the longer and heavier trucks. He also highlighted the numerous problems that would arise if current limits were abandoned.

“Under the guise of enhanced productivity, some carriers and shippers incessantly push for ever-increasing size and weight limits while largely ignoring the dire safety implications,” he testified.

“OOIDA believes that the economic benefits enjoyed by a few would pale in comparison to the increased costs associated with loss of life and property; accelerated deterioration of equipment and the highway system; and developing, implementing and complying with the inevitable imposition of new rules and operational restrictions.”

Farrell drove home the negative impact the proposal would have on safety by reminding subcommittee members that driving a truck isn’t an easy job. And, he testified, adding length and weight to trucks is something that will make it that much tougher.

“Driving of commercial motor vehicles is an increasingly complex task,” he said. “Heavier weight adversely affects vehicle stability, increases stopping distances, exacerbates brake fade on downgrades, and slows the vehicle’s ascent on hills. In many cases, center of gravity rises in correspondence with heavier allowable weight limits, increasing the risk of vehicle rollover. This danger compounds significantly for vehicles with multiple trailers.”

Another argument used to promote longer and heavier trucks is that they will reduce the overall number of trucks on the road. Farrell told committee members that just isn’t so, especially given the aging nature of the nation’s infrastructure.

He told lawmakers that increasing truck size and weight would accelerate the deterioration of the nation’s highways and bridges. Many routes, as well as pickup and delivery points, would become totally inaccessible without substantial, costly upgrades to accommodate larger or heavier vehicles – requiring money from a cash-strapped Highway Trust Fund.

Farrell said that the end result would be longer and heavier trucks forced to stick to roads capable of handling the weight, simply creating more congestion on those limited routes.

Rather than make trucks longer and heavier, Farrell encouraged members of the committee to address the real needs of the trucking industry and highway users.

“What the trucking industry and the nation needs is more available capacity on our highway networks, not less, that has the design capability to allow the free flow of cross-country commercial traffic to pick-up and delivery points,” he told committee members.

– By Jami Jones. senior editor