Opponents ramp up efforts to stop longer, heavier trucks

Trucking interests, led by LTL carriers, have been pushing legislation that would allow 33-foot double trailers on American roadways. Opponents are ramping up efforts to stop it. ( Photo:  TruckStockImages.com  )

Trucking interests, led by LTL carriers, have been pushing legislation that would allow 33-foot double trailers on American roadways. Opponents are ramping up efforts to stop it. (Photo: TruckStockImages.com)

As the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development takes up consideration of a Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 appropriations bill to fund the U.S. Department of Transportation, opponents of longer and heavier trucks have ramped up a campaign to stop legislative efforts to make 33-foot doubles and 90,000-pound-plus GVWs commonplace.

“Special trucking interests are trying to use the appropriations process to circumvent and evade committees of jurisdiction and tack on anti-safety truck riders,” said a statement from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Potential changes to our Nation’s surface transportation policies and laws should be given full consideration and debate by Congress and not attached to a must-pass appropriations bill.” 

The group’s release quoted several opponents of heavier and longer trucks, noting that “bigger and heavier trucks mean bigger problems for the safety of all road users.”

Specifically, the group opposes any efforts to:

  • Extend the length of double trailer trucks by 10 feet and “green light” Double 33s;
  • Increase truck weights by upping the current national limit of 80,000 lbs.; and,
  • Create “pilot programs” or carve out additional state or industry exemptions.  

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety also is opposed to efforts in Oregon to include exemptions for “electric batteries and length increase for certain trucks.”

“Each day on average, 12 people are killed and 300 more are injured in crashes involving a large truck.  In any other mode of transportation, these numbers would be intolerable,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Congress should be taking action to address, and not exacerbate, this national safety problem. Yet, special trucking interests are pushing them to rollback safety protections and allow bigger and heavier trucks on our roads and overturn critical rest breaks for truck drivers which help combat fatigue.”

More than two dozen interest groups sent a letter to U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, chairman, and David Price, ranking member, of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations, urged the committee to ignore efforts to include riders related to truck size and weight.

“Increasing the length of double tractor-trailers by five feet per trailer would result in a configuration that is approximately the size of an 8-story building. These massive trucks would not only be more difficult for other motorists to maneuver around and co-exist on the roadways with but would also be more difficult for truck drivers to operate,” the group’s letter stated. “For example, ‘double 33s’ traveling at 60 miles per hour require an additional 22 feet to stop compared to existing twin-trailer configurations. Considering crashes in which a truck rear-ends a passenger vehicle have gone up 82 percent from 2009 to 2015, any extra stopping distance will make such crashes more likely and increase the severity of the crashes that are already occurring. Claims that longer trucks will improve safety ignore the facts and defy reality.

“Despite misleading assertions to the contrary, longer or heavier trucks will not reduce the number of trucks on our roads or the number of truck vehicles miles traveled or the number of truck crashes,” the letter continued. “In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation  found that any reduction in the number of trucks due to a truck size increase would be offset within a year of implementation. An increase in trailer size or weight limit would divert freight from the rails to trucks, as the latter industry will have a greater capacity to ship via longer or heavier trailers – thereby disrupting and diminishing intermodal efficiency.”

Advocates for longer and heavier trucks believe their will bring increased efficiencies, including fewer trucks on the highways, and that they post no additional safety risks.

The Association of American Railroads also recently came out against longer trucks, leading the group Americans for Modern Transportation to issue a rebuttal.

“We are extremely disappointed that the AAR, on behalf of the short-line railroads, is opposing efforts within Congress to modernize trucking equipment and allow twin 33-foot trailers to operate on our nation’s highways,” AMT’s Executive Director, Randy Mullet, said. “The short-line railroads have determined that holding productivity hostage, as a means of holding back their competition, is more important than the travelers, consumers, and businesses that would benefit from the safe and efficient movement of freight on our roads.

“Rather than letting the railroads stand in the way, Congress must move forward on common-sense policies such as twin 33-foot trailers that would reduce congestion on our roads, improve the safety for travelers, lower costs for consumers and businesses, decrease the amount of wear and tear on roads and bridges, and bring about meaningful environmental gains.”

AMT counts among its members a diverse group of industry stakeholders, including XPO Logistics, PODS, Manufacture Alabama and Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, FedEx, UPS, WYRC, and Amazon and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The group claims that by extending 28-foot trailers to 33 feet would result in 3.1 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled, 4,500 fewer truck crashes each year, and 53.2 million hours saved due to less congestion.

“With fewer miles traveled, the LTL industry would use less fuel — conservative estimates show a 255-million-gallon reduction in annual diesel fuel use. That is a lot of crude that is not drilled, transported, refined, transported again and burned to power the LTL fleet,” it claimed. “Furthermore, a five-foot extension for twin trailers, with no change in the weight limits, would result in 2.9 million fewer tons of carbon emissions.” 

Daphne Izer, co-founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), said the bill is being used to “roll back rule protecting against truck driver fatigue.”

“The latest effort, which would deny state meal and rest breaks, goes after breaks that are, in most cases, no more than 10 minutes for rest or a half hour for lunch,” she said. “At a time when truck crashes are at their highest level since 1996, Congress should be doing more to address the issue of truck driver fatigue, a long-identified safety concern, not slipping in a provision that overturns the ability of states to create safe working conditions for their truck drivers.  This is a sweeping policy change that should receive the full vetting of data collection and analysis, public hearings and Congressional review.”