Congress May Agree to Bigger Big Rigs on America’s Roads
America needs big rigs. We cannot make it through our daily lives without them. They provide a vital service to everyone from mom-and-pop retailers to giant grocery store chains to local pharmacies. Without them, millions of people would be without food, medical supplies, household goods and the like. But we all know the damage they can inflict upon our nation’s road and bridges and we’ve all seen the destruction and death that can come from an accident involving a semi. They are nearly hard to see around and even more impossible to pass on a highway, making the roads a more dangerous place.
Now there is a bill before Congress that would allow for even larger and heavier trucks driving across our nation, and many believe it would add an increased risk to all motorists. The provision was working into the House Transportation Appropriations bill that Congress must pass if they want to avoid a government shutdown.
If passed, the new limit for double tractor-trailers could increase by 17 feet, creating a massive overall allowable total of 85 feet. Other similar proposals being reviewed would increase the truck weight limit by an additional 17,000 pounds, to 97,000 pounds of overall weight. There is even a call for longer triple-trailer trucks on Congress’s desk. Those opposed state that roads and bridges would be weakened and the move would cost taxpayers billions each year to keep up with maintenance and repairs.
Many highway safety advocates, law enforcement officers, engineers and elected officials have spoken out against the measure, including Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who is worried about the larger blind spots the trucks would experience, just one of many increased dangers. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea and I hope not only the federal government listens, but our state governments listen as well.” Casey is meeting with Pennsylvania public safety officials in a race to get the provision removed before the end of the year vote by Congress.
The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT), a non-profit highway safety and policy advocacy group, is also making their opposition know. Their dedicated
website estimates taxpayers would spend $53 billion on infrastructure repairs and expects to see fatal crash rate increase by 11%. Surveys show that voters are also against the potential increase in size. One such poll determined the 95% of law enforcement officers agree the roads would be more dangerous and even 88% of truckers think longer combination vehicles would negatively impact highway safety. Overall, 76% of Americans don’t want to be driving alongside larger tractor-trailers.
Even law enforcement is getting involved in the debate. “Bigger trucks mean more severe crashes and more lives lost,” said Mat Hodapp, a Minnesota state trooper, member of the CABT, and chairman of the National Troopers Coalition. “I can tell you that law enforcement officers have known for quite some time that bigger trucks threaten highway safety, and this poll shows that the public knows it, too.”
Secretary of the Oklahoma State Troopers Association Toff Hatchett said, “Unleashing bigger trucks onto Oklahoma highways is the last thing we need,” said trooper Todd Hatchett. “They’re nothing but bad news.” Oklahoma is one of 17 states in the U.S. that currently has some roads that allow triple-trailers.
Most recently, deputies on the Commercial Vehicle Inspection Unit from the Dallas Country Sheriff’s department weighed in. The team consists of 8 members who spend the day inspecting trucks, checking driver’s logs, weighing tractor-trailers and helping to maintain safety of the road. “Something needs fixing on most trucks we stop,” Deputy John Hurt said. “So I start with that in my mind when you’re asking about adding even more weight.”
But it’s not just the potential safety violations that concern them. “The damage that the excessive weight causes to the roadways, that damage itself is pretty tough on our infrastructure,” Sergeant Daniel Plumer said. “Potholes open up and the road starts to break down, and there’s a danger to that for all vehicles.” He added, “The heavier the weight the more kinetic energy you have in a crash, the more dangers to our citizens.”
“There’s no such thing as a fender bender with an 18-wheeler,” Hurt said.