The United States Congress is considering a bill that would raise the maximum weight of heavy commercial vehicles to 97,000 pounds. RSA argues this is very dangerous!!
It is time to bring some clarity to the discussion of heavier trucks. Currently, there are two bills being considered regarding the maximum weight of heavy commercial vehicles on America’s Interstate Highway system. The most frightening is H.R. 1799 which proposes that the heaviest vehicles be allowed to add 17,000 additional pounds. A second bill is asking that the current 80,000 pound maximum rule stay in place. The law that wins will almost certainly be wrapped into the huge Highway Funding Bill that will be considered later this year so there will be very little debate on the merits of the bills individually. This is not good.
The first bill that requests an additional weight gain of almost 25% is supported by the American Trucking Associations and the fleets it represents. It’s easy to understand how trucking management would prefer to pay the same driver the same basic rate to transport more goods. They call it an increase in productivity and it is. But at what cost? An additional proposed axle for these heavier rigs would add 20% more braking power. Already the math is bad. Big weight numbers like this are hard for the driving public to comprehend so let’s consider it another way. Would you feel safe on the road with a tractor-trailer loaded to its current maximum but with three or four SUV’s strapped to the roof of the trailer? That’s the weight equivalent of adding the extra pounds.
With little effort statistics can be found arguing that the new weight law would make the roads safer due to fewer vehicles carrying more cargo. You will hear arguments that only the best drivers will remain in the work force when the unsafe ones are forced out by diminished opportunity. Some will even insist that the heavier truck is actually safer with the additional axle.
Just as infuriating is the insistence by some that the European Union has seen improved safety with the heavier trucks on their roads. They forget to tell us that the trucks in Europe are using mandated advanced safety technology that many American fleets choose not to install. The most obvious mandate is the required use of speed governors on European trucks set at 90 kph (56 mph) meaning the heavy loads can stop quicker. All of the heavy trucks in Europe also have electronic logging and it is specifically prohibited to pay truck drivers by the mile. These are the reasons that the heavier trucks are safe in the European Union.
As Twain frequently retorted: “Lies, damn lies and statistic!” This argument is not about safety or even productivity. This argument is about money and jobs.
The big fleets want the heavier trucks so they can spend less payroll getting their goods across the country. The independent truckers and their lobbying arm want the bill killed because it will cost their members jobs. The rest is fog. Independent truckers are not always on the right side of safety arguments. They oppose speed governors and Electronic On-Board Recorders. But in this case, their argument for keeping the weight static is actually the safer alternative until we adopt the safety policies the E.U. (and other countries) require.
Road Safe America proposes some common sense middle ground. Let’s first insist that all heavy commercial vehicles use their factory installed speed governors at 65mph or less. Many of America’s safer fleets do this now. Then, if testing shows that the 97,000 pound trucks are in fact more productive, let’s govern them at 55mph to assure that safety is the true first priority.
Road Safe America is not anti-trucking. We are pro-safety and put the lives of motorists and truck drivers ahead of productivity and profits. We recognize that the trucking industry is a vital part of American commerce and work to bring common sense practices to this critical element of our society.