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Commercial drivers: increasing truck sizes would fuel accidents

Not for the first time, large trucking companies and mega-shippers are trying to get the law changed so they can deploy even larger and heavier trucks on our nation's roadways. The latest effort is underway now, and the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are currently in the process of holding listening sessions and taking public comments on the proposal.

Commercial drivers, as represented by the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association are making no secret of their opposition to the plan. Not only would it require astronomically large investments in our nation's infrastructure, the truckers say, but it would also result in more frequent -- and almost certainly much more serious -- truck accidents.

"The entire argument that shippers make for bigger and heavier trucks is based upon their view that it will improve their competitiveness by reducing their transportation costs," says one of the OOIDA representatives who attended a recent listening session.

One of the truckers' primary complaints, as one might expect, is that increasing the size and weight of commercial trucks affects their bottom line, since the vast majority of trucking companies -- 96 percent -- are small businesses with 20 or fewer trucks. Not only would it be difficult for them to afford the larger trucks and thus compete on the market, it would also result in a patchwork of state regulations that would be virtually impossible for smaller carriers to comply with.

Why the patchwork of regulations? Well, a current proposal before Congress would increase the weight limit for trucks to 97,000 pounds on six axles. Currently, most of our national infrastructure is only built to accept trucks weighing 80,000 pounds on five axles, yet exceptions are still prevalent from state to state. Many of the nation's roads and bridges would immediately have to be upgraded, which could cost billions.

The expense might be monumental, but preventing serious and deadly truck accidents is more important. The truckers urged regulators to keep in mind that driving mega-trucks is a specialized skill.

"We have grown to depend more and more on technology and less and less on training and experience," one of the OOIDA representatives said. "When technology fails, and it will, can you count on entry or intermediate level drivers to control a previously classified heavy haul load of just less than 100,000 pounds down the hill, or with a blowout on a steer tire, or going into a sharp curve, or any number of things that happen daily?"

Source: Land Line magazine, "Supersized trucks? The professionals on the road say no," David Tanner, June 6, 2013

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