Safety, driving experience factor in truck size and weight debate

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 5/31/2013

Input from safe and experienced trucking professionals is stacking up to play an important role in a federal study on truck size and weight. Three OOIDA members with decades of driving experience made the most of a visit to Washington, DC, to participate in a U.S. DOT listening session this week.

“I’m extremely pleased with what took place here. We’ve done well,” said Tilden Curl, an OOIDA life member from Olympia, WA.

Curl, along with OOIDA Senior Member Scott Grenerth of Arlington, OH, and OOIDA Life Member Steve Davenport of Lewisville, TX, reported a positive experience overall in DC, especially the interaction with officials and people representing opposing interests.

“We really caught a lot of people off-guard because they weren’t expecting very experienced drivers to be here speaking about the issues,” Curl said. “I’m sure we stirred up some of the other organizations that oppose us.”

The main issue for drivers in the size and weight debate is safety, Davenport explained.

“The idea that you can raise weights and sizes of vehicles and not impact safety is the wrong approach,” Davenport said.

“If what we have right now was established in 1982, and our highways and bridges are deficient, I would be hard-pressed to justify why we would want heavier and larger equipment on the highways today. We still have a long way to go to upgrade the system that matches the equipment we use today.”

Grenerth adds that cost of equipment is also a major factor considering that the vast majority of trucking is made up of small-business entities and a lot of one-truck owner-operators competing with large and mega fleets.

“If (a size and weight increase) were to pass, it would be passing along the cost of having to purchase a trailer with an additional axle, or having to add an axle onto an existing trailer, having to incur more wear on the engine, the brakes and other components, and having to replace a truck that much sooner,” said Grenerth.

“The proponents of larger and heavier trucks can incur those types of costs better, but as an independent owner-operator, it’s a whole different story.”

The DOT, through the Federal Highway Administration, is conducting the Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study as mandated by Congress in the current highway law known as MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

The listening session was the agency’s primary form of public outreach to help guide the study researchers.

The truckers noted that the listening session was not a typical “five minutes at the podium” in front of a panel like at other events. It was also not about being “for” or “against” truck size and weight increases as much as it was about shaping the research and data collection for the study.

The participants met for opening remarks and then broke out into groups of 20 or 30 to a room. In each room, the participants rolled up their sleeves and discussed the effects of truck size and weight on highway safety, cost of operation, productivity and the wear and tear on roads and bridges, not to mention the current challenges truckers already face such as a lack of parking and stagnant freight rates.

“It brought out more useful information in that format, the way it was set up, than the typical listening session where you say your piece, they nod their head, and then the next person gets up,” Curl said.

“We also promoted the idea that truck drivers be involved in tests or studies so that way we could include real-world effects to all of this,” Curl said. “Some other studies may not look at some of the aspects of what a driver would encounter – and that’s basically through ignorance or maybe even by design.”

A comment period on the topic of size and weight remains open through June 5. Click here to participate in the discussion by email. The most effective comments are ones that help the Federal Highway Administration collect accurate data from real-world driving experience and that help the agency understand the issue well ahead of its report to Congress in 2014.

“Land Line Now” Senior Correspondent Terry Scruton and News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this story. Catch interviews with each of the truckers in a “Land Line Now” follow-up, 7 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, June 4, on Sirius XM Channel 128.

Copyright © OOIDA