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Truck size and weight legislation returns…again

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
May 08, 2013

Here we go again.

That sentiment, of course, could apply to just about anything, but in this case it has to do with the case for increased truck sizes and weight, or rather the case against it. This quarrel, it seems, has been going on for a very, very long time, regardless of which side you may be on.

The latest chapter was written this week, with Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) reintroducing legislation, entitled the Safe Highways and Preservation Act of 2013 (SHIPA), which is geared to keep bigger and heavier trucks off the road and apply existing federal truck size and weight limits to the entire National Highway System, rather than interstate highways, which is the case today. 

“When super-sized tractor-trailers are on the road, they are a threat to drivers and the integrity of our highways and bridges,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Closing the loophole that keeps these long, overweight trucks on our National Highway System will protect families and preserve our nation’s infrastructure.  Trucks play a critical role in our nation’s economy, but they also share the roads with our families, so we must do everything we can to make our nation’s highways safer and prevent tragic accidents.  This is thoughtful, common-sense legislation that would maintain our highways, grow our economy, and ensure safe roads for commuters and families.”

The specifics of the SHIPA Act call for: applying the current limits of 80,000 pounds and the maximum length of 53 feet for tractor-trailer trucks to the entire National Highway System, with certain exemptions allowed, including firefighting equipment; extend certain restrictions to the 222,000-mile NHS; expand the current freeze on triple-tractor trailer operations on interstates to apply to the NHS; and close loopholes that allow the operation of overweight trucks and establish an enforcement program to ensure accountability.

Lautenberg’s office also highlighted that bigger trucks represent risks, including longer stopping distances, increased risks of rollover and trailers merging into adjacent lanes, with a 100,000 pound truck with unadjusted brakes moving 25 percent further after a driver applies brakes than an 80,000 pound truck and larger trucks representing a higher share of deaths based on miles traveled compared to standard vehicle traffic, as well as threats to the country’s roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

Given the ongoing political paralysis in Washington, where passing legislation of any type these days can almost be viewed as a minor miracle of sorts, there could not be much of a chance this bill actually even goes anywhere.

What’s more, just last year a bill was dropped that calls for increasing truck size and weight.

That bill, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (H.R. 763 and S. 747), gained the support of about 200 shippers, carriers and allied associations, and it authorized the use of higher productivity, six-axle single-trailer vehicles weighing up to 97,000 pounds. Truck lengths would not be affected.
The bill would give states the option to implement higher weight limits on interstate borders within their limits—where appropriate. Backers say it would result in fewer trucks on the highways, less pollution, reduced emissions, bolster productivity and perhaps save as much as 2 billion gallons in diesel annually.

Even with those benefits, there is plenty of opposition. Safety advocacy groups such as Public Citizen have routinely railed against past efforts to modernize truck weight laws, and can be counted on to do so again. Labor groups such as the Teamsters union also are against such legislation, even though Teamster drivers account for only about 60,000 jobs in the LTL sector out of the total of as many as 3 million long-haul truck drivers.

The 80,000-pound limit was set in 1982, as part of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Industry leaders say after 30 years and numerous safety advances in technology and a stronger safety record than ever, it is time to revisit the weight standard.

And industry backers clamoring for larger and heavier trucks point to the fact that these trucks would result in less congestion, and consolidating freight on fewer trucks would cut vehicle miles traveled, save fuel, reduce emissions and allow U.S. businesses to cut costs and improve their competitive edge in a global market place, they say.

While there was no traction made for increased truck size and weight in last year’s MAP-21 federal transportation legislation, the bill did call for provisions directing the Secretary of Transportation to study the effects of truck, size and weight on highway safety and infrastructure.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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