Trucking Industry’s Dangerous Call for Bigger Rigs

A current fight in Congress will determine how or whether the federal government will continue to provide funding to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which relies on gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and other related taxes to finance our country’s interstate highway system and other roads.

As it stands, the HTF will become insolvent on May 31 after having been propped up for the past seven years by the government’s general fund. The Congressional Budget Office reports that HTF expenditures have exceeded revenues by $52 billion in the past decade alone. That number could climb to more than $165 billion by 2024 unless the revenue shortfalls are addressed.

In response, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are gathering information from a variety of companies and individuals involved in the transportation industry, from trucking operations to major railroads. As you might expect, the trucking industry is loudly opposing potential increases in fuel taxes as a means to help increase HTF funding.

As part of the solution, trucking industry representatives are touting a plan to dramatically increase the size and load capacity for tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks. On the flip side, highway safety advocates and the railroad industry are pointing to the inherent dangers that come with larger trucks sharing the same roads that you and I drive every day.

Although the railroads’ complaints obviously are tied to the financial shortfalls they would face if larger trucks are allowed to operate in the U.S., the accompanying safety dangers are very real. Advocacy groups such as the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks have produced studies revealing the dangers of larger trucks, as well as polls that show three of four Americans oppose longer and heavier semis.

Significantly, one of the largest groups opposing bigger trucks is made up of the very men and women who have to deal with the resulting roadway catastrophes: state troopers. The more than 45,000 members of the National Troopers Coalition have pledged their support to defeat the call for larger semitrailers and other big rigs.

One of the main problems with the 33-foot trailers recommended by the trucking industry is the sheer size of these mammoth vehicles. If allowed, the “new” trucks would extend a full 10 feet longer in double-trailer configurations compared to the existing 28-foot standard, and 17 feet longer than the standard 28-foot trailers in operation today. Ask anyone who has had to navigate a stretch of highway with a double-trailer riding alongside, and see whether they think 10 more feet of trailer would have made the drive safer. We all know the answer to that one.

The same argument holds true based on the amount of weight the bigger rigs would be able to transport. The current proposal from the trucking industry would bump up the allowable weight limit to as much as 97,000 pounds per vehicle, which is 8 tons heavier than the current 80,000-pound mandate. Simple physics will tell you that a crash involving a vehicle that is 8 tons heavier than another will produce more catastrophic results. Can anyone truthfully argue that heavier, longer trucks will make the roads safer for you or me?

Here’s hoping that Congress does the right thing to improve our existing highways while keeping the safety of all us at the forefront.