Large trucks are already a big problem in the United States. Their fatal accident rate is increasing and they are accelerating the destruction of America’s aging roads and bridges, according to safety experts and law enforcement sources. Both say those problems will get much worse if Congress passes legislation beefing up the weight and size of 18 wheelers.
The proposed legislation
The Safe, Flexible, and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act, was introduced in Congress in September. If the bill becomes law, states can choose to allow longer, heavier trucks on their interstate roads. Trailers of “freight shipping trucks” would increase in size from 28 feet to 33 feet, making those with double trailers nearly 100 feet long. Truck axles would increase from five to six and their total weight would rise from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. The minimum age for truck drivers would drop from 21 to 18.
Supporters and critics battle in Congress
Supporters say the increase in size and weight will put fewer trucks on the road, increasing safety, relieving traffic in congested urban settings and reducing wear and tear on the nation’s roads and bridges. The six axle requirement will “ensure that these heavier trucks maintain the same or better stopping distance…” Supporters include the American Trucking Association, UPS and FedEx Ground, the National Grain and Feed Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, the Soy Transportation Coalition and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, among others.
Critics say the added weight will accelerate the deterioration of America’s already crumbling bridges and roads and cause more accidents. They include the Truckload Carriers Association, the Coalition against Bigger Trucks, the American Automobile Association, the Truck Safety Coalition, The Association of American Railroads, and Parents against Tired Truckers.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) says it needs more data to determine if the increase in weight and length is safe. Until then, it is urging no changes in the current law. Law enforcement officials in a number of states, including Texas, are concerned about safety on the roads if the measure becomes law.
The impact on safety
Joan Claybrook, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the current co-chair of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, is opposed to twin 33 foot trailers. “Essentially, there would be trains on our highways…” the safety expert asserts, with tired truckers behind the wheel.
“The death toll in truck-related crashes rose 17 percent” between 2009 and 2013, according to a recent article in the New York Times about the trucking industry’s continuing push in Congress to relax federal regulations governing the size and weight of big rigs.
The op-ed’s author, Howard Abramson, was an executive at American Trucking Associations from 1998 to 2004. He charges that if past trends continue, more people will die in 2015 in accidents with trucks, “…than have died in all domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years…” Abramson’s figures cite an increase of 17 percent in fatality rates in truck-involved accidents between 2009 and 2013.
A 30 year review of truck fatality rates, published in 2013 by the U. S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) “…found that gross vehicle weight” appears to be “associated with higher crash rates.” USDOT data in 2013 showed “an 11-percent higher fatality rate” in double trailer trucks, compared to single trailer trucks – the latest death toll figures available involving those trucks from that federal agency.
The impact on roads and bridges
Thousands of bridges in the U. S. are nearing the end of their 50 year life spans. The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT) calls the situation a national infrastructure crisis. According to the U. S. Department of Transportation, “…25 percent of the bridges” on the National Highway System are either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” meaning they cannot carry additional weight or they were built when there was less traffic.
On August 1, 2007, 1,000 feet of the I-35W Bridge near downtown Minneapolis suddenly collapsed during the evening rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145. More than 140,000 vehicles were crossing the bridge every day, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The collapse was the most famous bridge failure in recent years.
In 2013, the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River near Seattle collapsed after an over an oversized truck load clipped the steel truss,” according to CBS News. The news report concluded that older bridges, even if they are officially deemed safe, can be “crippled” if they are hit hard enough in a critical spot.
On the 14th of September 2015, according to ABC News-4 in Salt Lake City, a 20-pound chunk of a 51-year old bridge on I-80 suddenly crashed through the windshield of an airport shuttle as it passed under the span, missing the driver by inches. No one in the vehicle was hurt.
The author of “Too Big to Fall: America’s Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward,” a major book about the condition of bridges in America, calls them a danger to the traveling public. According to Barry LePatner, nearly 600 bridges have failed in the U.S. since 1989.
The U.S. Department of Transportation released a study in June 2015, detailing the impact of increasing truck size and weight on bridges. It noted that “…if federal truck weights were increased to 91,000 pounds, more than 4,800 bridges would need to be strengthened or replaced…at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1.1 billion.”
Roads are also crumbling at a rapid rate all over the U.S. According to a report in USA Today, more of America’s roads had pavement in poor condition in 2011 than 2008. Ruts, potholes, roads rippled like washboards, erosion and missing guardrails are damaging vehicles of all kinds and leading to serious accidents.
The lawyers at Wayne Wright specialize in assisting those injured and killed in accidents with heavy trucks. Their analyses of these accidents include investigating all the factors that determine successful outcomes for victims they represent. They are keenly aware of the disadvantage that passengers in the average automobile face in a collision with a big truck. The average auto weighs 4,000 pounds. Today, the average fully loaded truck weighs 80,000 pounds.
Wayne Wright lawyers know that if the weight and size of “semi” trucks on American roads is increased, the safety of the average driver will be further compromised.