Highway fatalities are climbing and the nation’s roads and bridges are deteriorating at a fast pace; nonetheless the trucking industry is again asking Congress to permit a new generation of heavier trucks. The higher weight limit is supported in part by the trucking industry and by shippers who would benefit from moving heavier loads.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2015,” 4,311 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes in 2015, an eight-percent increase from 2014.
Truck driver fatigue, speeding, and the difficulty of stopping a heavy vehicle all contribute to the disproportionate involvement of trucks in crashes. Many fatal truck crashes involve rear-end collisions. These crashes are usually caused when trucks come up on stalled vehicles.
Congress previously rejected the request to allow larger trucks on the road, in 2015 defeating an amendment to permit trucks as heavy at 91,000 pounds on interstate highways, up from the 80,000-pound limit that has been in effect since 1982. At 80,000 pounds, trucks are already 20 to 30 times heavier than most cars, and take 20 percent to 40 percent farther to stop. The stopping distance required for a truck loaded with 91,000 pounds of freight is substantially longer. Big rigs carrying loads close to the current Federal Limit (65,000 to 80,000 lbs.) are already twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as trucks carrying less than 50,000 lbs.
Proponents of heavier trucks argue that higher weight limits will mean fewer trucks on the road. Nonetheless, prior increases in truck capacity limits in the past led to more freight diversion to trucking from competing modes. So, heavier trucks may lead to more trucks on the road, not fewer. The impact on safety as well as infrastructure would be significant.
Bigger trucks mean more serious crashes. We have written many articles discussing the various crash dangers tractor trailers pose.
The FMCSA has advocated for several safety proposals in an effort to lower truck crash rates, including electronic log devices and speed limiters.
Commercial truck drivers are required to log their driving – and resting – hours in logbooks to comply with the FMCSA’s regulations governing the consecutive hours truckers can operate their vehicles before resting. However, it is easy for truck drivers falsify information in their reports, thereby skirting FMCSA rules.
In an effort to prevent false reporting in log books, an FMCSA proposal would require all trucking companies to install electronic logging devices in all new vehicles by December 18, 2017. Although far from certain, the Trump administration has not yet determined to overrule the proposal.
The FMCSA’s speed limiter proposal is still in the discussion phase. Speed limiters prevent a vehicle from exceeding a preset speed limit, which the FMCSA asserts would lower the number of truck wrecks.
Before Congress considers any changes to truck size and weight regulations of trucks on the road, at the very least, installation of safety technologies should be required to protect truck drivers and fellow motorists – and the safety record of the trucking industry should greatly improve.
It is also important to note that any so-called “states option” for heavier trucks – legislation to increase truck size and weight limits state-by-state rather than by federal law – is a back door attempt by trucking interests to come back to Congress later and push for heavier truck weights nationwide. The states option was tried in 1974. Eight years later, trucking interests returned to Congress and complained about the states that refused to allow 80,000 lbs. trucks on their roads. Preempting state laws, Congress increased weights to 80,000 lbs. in every state.