Federal Update
United front, strange bedfellows
Diverse groups stand up against longer, heavier trucks

By David Tanner, associate editor

Certain lawmakers, safety groups and truckers don’t come together very often, but when the cause is big enough – and in this case heavy enough – a united front means a louder voice.

Strange bedfellows at times, safety groups such as CRASH, Parents Against Tired Truckers and the Truck Safety Coalition are on the same side as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, AAA and the Teamsters when it comes to opposing longer, heavier trucks on America’s highways.

These groups support legislation filed in early May, by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ. The bill is known as SHIPA, the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act of 2013.

If it passes or gets attached to the next highway bill, SHIPA would extend the current limit of 80,000 pounds on five axles in 53-foot trailers to the entire 220,000-mile National Highway System and not just the current 44,000 miles of interstates. The bill would close a loophole used by states to allow longer, heavier trucks on certain federally funded roadways.

Lautenberg has never minced words when it comes to his feelings about trucks and highway safety.

“When super-sized tractor trailers are on the road, they are a threat to drivers and the integrity of our highways and bridges,” he said in a colorful press release. Lautenberg referred to triple trailer configurations as “killer trucks” and said SHIPA would do its part to make highways safer.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-MA, is pursuing a counterpart for SHIPA in the U.S. House.

The safety groups convened in May on Capitol Hill to applaud the effort.

OOIDA has long opposed increases in truck size and weight limits and supports SHIPA as part of a broader effort to block legislation that would increase those limits. The Association says allowing heavier trucks as the new norm would make the highways less safe and speed up the deterioration of costly infrastructure. There’s also an issue of competition and cost.

“The main message that we want lawmakers to understand about the truck size-and-weight issue is that the trucking industry is not unified behind size and weight increases,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley said.

“Small-business truckers will see increased equipment and fuel costs without a guarantee that their rates will go up. All longer and heavier trucks would do is shift costs from the shipper to the trucker. This is a bad deal for trucking.”

OOIDA opposes a separate House bill, HR612, that aims to increase truck size and weight on federal highways to 97,000 pounds on six axles and allow longer-combination vehicles. That bill, known as SETA, the Safe Efficient Transportation Act, is sponsored by Reps. Michael Michaud, D-ME, and Reid Ribble, R-WI, and is supported by large shipper, receiver and carrier interests.

The safety groups, who oppose the SETA legislation, did not let their visit to Capitol Hill go by without promoting other items on their national agenda concerning trucks and truckers.

Those issues include divisive issues such as mandatory speed limiters, apnea testing, electronic stability control systems, and lane-departure warning systems.

One item that remains absent on their wish list is comprehensive driver training standards for entry-level commercial drivers.

“The groups have given a preview of what they would like to see in the next highway bill, and nowhere in that is a focused effort to improve driver training standards for commercial drivers,” said Bowley.

“Entry-level driver training is a long-overdue and commonsense safety measure that should be the first priority of anyone focused on highway safety.” LL