Federal study recommends no changes in truck size and weight

By David Tanner, senior editor

The U.S. DOT’s Federal Highway Administration believes there’s no need to increase current truck size and weight limits on America’s highways. The administration, in technical reports issued June 5, says too many gaps exist in current data about safety and other factors to recommend any changes to current limits.

OOIDA leadership is pleased with the results.

The technical reports are part of the Federal Highway Administration’s Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study ordered by Congress as part of the 2012 highway bill. The technical reports have been completed, but must be peer-reviewed before the agency delivers a final report to Congress.

Lawmakers periodically face lobbying efforts by large shippers and carriers to increase the size and weight of trucks on the nation’s highways. Those efforts face significant pushback from small-business truckers and various other organizations including safety groups.

Congress ordered the study on the effects of truck sizes and weights to make determinations about highway safety, crash rates, road and bridge conditions, freight patterns and the economy.

The study pulls together and analyzes existing data comparing trucks that operate within federal guidelines with trucks that operate in excess of federal guidelines by permit or state allowances. The study also ropes in stakeholder input, including from OOIDA and its membership, about how a potential increase in truck size and weight would affect small businesses, highway safety and the nation’s infrastructure.

A summary of the technical reports refers to various limitations about available data within the study, especially concerning crashes.

“For example, the lack of descriptive information regarding commercial motor vehicles involved in crashes continues to prevent adequate analysis of highway safety and truck crashes,” FHWA states in its report summary.

“The lack of data on gross vehicle weight (GVW), number of axles on a vehicle, and the spacing between the axles imposed significant constraints in drawing national-level conclusions. In addition, the lack of crash data relevant to oversize trucks impeded the study team’s ability to project crash rates of different truck sizes and configurations on a national scale.”

OOIDA’s position is that the current 80,000 pounds on five axles should remain frozen on interstates and other roadways while taking into account that a number of states allow more weight and axle configurations that predate the current freeze.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer says that an increase in the current limits would pose safety risks on the highways.

“That is undoubtedly true. There is an impact on safety, and a lot of things go into that,” Spencer said.

“Adequately preparing drivers for the challenges of the job has never been a priority for federal agencies,” he said.

“The absence of any kind of meaningful training regulations – couple that with an infrastructure that is in bad need of upgrades. The bigger and heavier argument is generally made by those doing the bidding for competitive reasons. As we know, any benefits that accrue never go to drivers or truck operators, yet everybody ends up paying the price for the increased cost that this kind of trucking generates.”

Before undertaking the current study, the last time the Federal Highway Administration studied comprehensive truck sizes and weights was in 2000.

The lead-up to the 2012 highway bill saw one of the largest pushes in recent history by the American Trucking Associations and shipper groups to increase truck size and weight. The persistence of OOIDA, its membership and educational efforts in Washington, D.C., helped stave off an increase.

The bigger-heavier lobby could try again with Congress set to debate a new highway bill this summer. OOIDA and its media will remain proactive against the effort. LL