If big rigs get any bigger, as some Congressmen are apparently hoping will happen, we can all but guarantee a spike in the number of injuries and fatalities attributed to tractor-trailer accidents in Tennessee.
It’s simple physics, really.
We know that the bigger a vehicle is, the more damage it is liable to cause. This is especially true when vehicles are only designed to hold a certain threshold of weight and are then overloaded. This poses a danger not only to the driver, but to everyone else who shares the road.
As it stands now, the maximum weight limit threshold is 80,000 pounds. A bill currently moving through the U.S. House of Representatives would up that to 97,000 pounds.
Increasing this weight limit will not serve to reduce overloading vehicles. That will still happen. It’s just that with a measure like this, these massive trucks will have the power to inflict even more damage in collisions with motor vehicles.
The only ones who benefit from this are large shipping and trucking firms, which will be able to fatten their pockets by increasing the amount they can deliver at a time.
However, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, a group of about 150,000 smaller trucking operations, is staunchly opposed to HR612, mostly for safety reasons but also because the vast majority of trucking firms won’t be able to afford to upgrade their fleet – usually consisting of 20 or fewer vehicles – to compete with the newer, larger models in states that choose to adopt the new federal standards, should they get approval.
It wasn’t long ago that Congress grappled with this same issue. Last year, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which revamped federal highway safety standards, rejected a proposal to increase tractor-trailer truck weight and size limits. Instead, it ordered a comprehensive study on the impacts of larger trucks on the integrity of highway infrastructure, motor vehicle safety and the economy. We are still awaiting the results of this research, though the Federal Highway Administration conducted its mandated listening session as part of that study at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington D.C. in late May.
In addition to opposition from OOIDA, the Automobile Association of America has come out against efforts to increase size and weight limits on commercial trucks. With a membership some 50 million strong, this could be a powerful voice in talking down these efforts.
As it currently stands, there are some 28,000 motor carrier companies across the country that are actively violating federal safety standards, having a direct impact on safety for all those who travel the highways. Increasing truck size limits won’t help to reduce that number. It will however give these companies more room to push the limits, which in turn puts us all at even greater risk.
And as the OOIDA underscores, the change is in no way necessary to help improve the greater good.