US Senate considers heavier commercial trucks – deaths linked to large trucks increase

While the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported significant decreases in highway accidents and fatalities within the last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) confirmed marked increases in deaths linked to large trucks. The IIHS noted an increase in commercial vehicle-related deaths in 2010, as well as significant cases of serious injury. While commercial vehicles and trucks account for less than 4 percent of registered vehicles on the road, they are linked to a disparate percentage of traffic accidents. Big truck issues remain a public safety priority, and news from Capitol Hill regarding sweeping legislation regarding trucking safety is gaining much attention. In April 2011, Senator Mike Crapo introduced legislation that could greatly impact the trucking industry and highway safety. Entitled the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (SETA), this bill (S.B. 747) calls for an end to the federal freeze on changes in truck sizes and weights. Under this newly proposed legislation, states would allow carriers with weight limits up to 97,000-pounds and with six-axles to travel their highways. Under current laws, some states limit heavier vehicles to local roadways and backroads. Representative Mike Michaud, introduced a similar bill in the House in February of this year. Also entitled the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (H.R. 763), it seeks to improve the safe and efficient vehicle bridge infrastructure and give states the power to set vehicle weights up to 97,000 pounds for six-axle vehicles. Crapo and others believe that the proposed law will keep transportation efficiency up and consumer costs down. Senator Crapo points to the skyrocketing gasoline and diesel prices as a motivation behind his legislation. Companies, such as Miller Coors, state the higher weigh limit will reduce the number of trips needed to transport agricultural goods needed for its products. While members of the trucking industry and companies that are reliant on the trucking industry are in support of SETA, other members of Congress-as well as numerous safety advocates and organizations-oppose the various bills. Organizations such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), are concerned that allowing heavier trucks combined with the poor quality of many American roads, inadequate commercial driver training, accelerated equipment degradation, and vehicles that are too big or overloaded to control will create serious safety problems for the American public. While SETA awaits further consideration in the House and Senate, trucking industry stakeholders, like the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the OOIDA take sides. In the middle, the public waits.