New Law To Permit Bigger Tractor-Trailers Will Make Our Highways Less Safe

Congress should put public safety above trucking industry demands

Trucking companies want bigger trucks and unfortunately many national lawmakers agree with them. Trucking companies want to increase 18-wheeler weight limits from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds on interstate highways, an increase of 14 percent.

After a similar bill was defeated in 2015, sponsors promised to reintroduce this bad idea again this year. Increasing truck weight limits flies against all reason. Tractor-trailer accident deaths jumped 26 percent between 2009 and 2015, a frightening trend that shows no sign of slowing down. In 2015, truck accident fatalities increased by eight percent from the previous year to 4,050 people.

We should expect our lawmakers to strengthen safety regulations, not weaken them.

Why do trucking companies want to raise weight limits?

Trucking lobbyists have long complained that the weight limits are unfair because the trucks can fit fewer goods into each load. Unsurprisingly, some lobbyists and lawmakers have even argued that the weight limits make the roads more dangerous. If that’s a head scratcher, their reasoning is that trucking companies have to put more trucks on the road to deliver their goods.

In reality, the only reason to increase the weight of tractor-trailers is to save companies in transportation costs, but at a substantial expense to the public.

Why does the weight of a truck matter?

Currently, a truck’s weight is limited to 80,000 pounds (40 tons), a standard that has been in place since 1982. If you don’t think that’s a lot, 40 tons is 20 to 30 times heavier than most passenger vehicles.

Why does this matter to you? A truck weighing 80,000 pounds takes 40 percent longer to stop than the average car — and that’s once the trucker has applied his brakes. Increasing the weight will increase the stopping distance even more, and consequently increase the chances of an accident.

When a heavy truck does collide with a car, the occupants of the smaller, lighter vehicle are at much greater risk of catastrophic injuries and death than had the accident involved two equally weighted vehicles. Adding more weight to trucks will diminish the likelihood of survival even further.

And yet the trucking industry constantly fights crucial safety regulations

The trucking industry has continually fought government efforts to tighten hours of service regulations, which limit the amount of time a driver can operate a commercial vehicle in a day and over the course of a workweek. These common sense HOS regulations also require drivers to rest periodically.

The trucking industry wants to push their drivers to work longer hours, which means more fatigued drivers operating large commercial trucks. We already have sleep deprived truck drivers on the highway. If Congress allows heavier trucks, we will now have equally tired drivers operating even more dangerous vehicles.

Also, to keep costs low, the trucking industry has avoided introducing life-saving safety technology — such as automatic braking systems, adaptive cruise control and warning devices — that are available in many cars today.

Safety technology should be mandated in all commercial vehicles to protect the public and to protect truck drivers. We can’t rely on trucking corporations to do the right thing.

We don’t need heavier trucks on our highways. I hope our lawmakers put public safety above the trucking industry’s profits.

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