Federal Update
Supersized trucks? The professionals on the road say no
Trucking professionals who make their living behind the wheel say there's no good reason to increase truck size and weight limits on the highways beyond what is currently allowed.

By David Tanner, associate editor

Three OOIDA members with a combined 70 years of trucking experience, including heavy haul, filed comments alongside OOIDA leadership on June 5 to make sure the Federal Highway Administration hears and understands the driver perspective as the agency studies truck size and weight.

“It is incumbent upon FHWA as it conducts this study to reach out to the truck driver community – not simply fleet executives or trucking associations but actual truck drivers – to understand the impact

of these proposed changes,” read the comments filed jointly by OOIDA, Life Members Tilden Curl and Steve Davenport and Senior Member Scott Grenerth.

Congress mandated the study in the current highway law known as MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. The mandate included a listening session, which the FHWA conducted May 29 in Washington, D.C.

Curl, Davenport and Grenerth attended the session on behalf of OOIDA and its 150,000 members.

“Unlike the majority of the organizations who are submitting comments to this study, OOIDA’s members do not see the trucking industry and the impacts of policy decisions set here in Washington from behind a desk or on a balance sheet. Instead, they see them on the highway and in their personal pocketbook,” the truckers jointly stated in the comments.

OOIDA has fought extensively against proposed increases in truck size and weight for years, and rejects an argument from shippers that increasing truck sizes and weights will save on costs.

“This study cannot simply assume that those costs evaporate into thin air,” the truckers stated in the joint comments. “It must examine the reality that with bigger and heavier trucks, costs for some of our nation’s largest and most profitable corporations are being pushed onto small-business truckers who are already struggling to maintain competitiveness in one of the lowest margin industries in the country.”

They note that 96 percent of active motor carriers operate 20 or fewer trucks. Changing the allowances for size and weight on interstates would create a patchwork among states deciding whether or not to adopt a federal standard.

“It would force the purchase of new heavier equipment by motor carriers to serve states with heavier gross weight limits,” the truckers stated. “This would reduce the payload in states that choose to remain at the current limits, causing challenges for shippers and truckers alike, especially small-business truckers.”

Highway safety and the state of America’s infrastructure are huge issues, and need to be taken into account in the study, they continued.

“We have grown to depend more and more on technology and less and less on training and experience,” the truckers 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?”

Driving heavy haul vehicles is a specialized job, the truckers said in the joint statement.

Much of the nation’s infrastructure was built before 53-foot trailers were the norm and before weights were frozen on the national system to 80,000 pounds on five axles. Exceptions to the rule exist and vary by state.

A proposal in Congress would raise limits on the system to 97,000 pounds on six axles. The truckers point out that the proposal could effectively change the way trucks are routed or force many bridges to undergo expensive repairs or be shut down to truck traffic.

“All weight-restricted bridges would need to be immediately upgraded to the new standard or closed to significant freight traffic. The remaining bridges would need to be evaluated for the ability to handle the new standard weight, potentially taxing already stretched state transportation budgets.”

The truckers and OOIDA will continue to ask questions and provide input to the federal study. According to MAP-21, the feds are to report their study findings to Congress in the fall of 2014. LL