It’s turning into an elephant-sized problem
Take the heaviest eighteen-wheeler on the road and imagine putting an elephant on top of an already-packed trailer. Lawmakers will soon have to make a decision about whether trucks deserve to get a little heavier than normal… by about 10,000 additional pounds. That’s more than two sedans-worth of weight. The Safe, Flexible and Efficient Trucking Act is set for debate in Washington, now with the markup of the next federal highway bill.
The bill, which was introduced by representative Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, would increase the maximum weight restrictions for commercial trucks from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds, so long as the truck is equipped with an additional sixth axle. Ribble’s axle solution claims that, by increasing weight restrictions, truck companies will be less likely to pack their carriers to the brim, a problem that makes them more dangerous and less efficient on the road. By contrast, lobbies like the rail industry argue that heavier trucks mean more road deterioration, which ultimately puts the impending repairs squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayers. It’s a tale of opposing lobbies that are determined to argue in favor of their own interests while neglecting the real issue: safety.
The logic behind Ribble’s proposal is almost backwards in its thinking. Would truckers and trucking companies really opt for a less-is-more strategy if given the opportunity? It’s like giving a kid a larger candy bag at Halloween, assuming the kid won’t take more candy because he/she has room to spare. But kids will be kids and big business will be big business. Even with some sort of middle ground, the Safe, Flexible and Efficient Trucking Act would seem like nothing more than veiled attempt to get people to believe that heavier trucks with a sixth axle are, in fact, safer on already-congested highways.
The truck lobby is wanting to bolster their shipping capabilities, and has once again added to a notorious reputation, one that pushes for so-called “upgrades” while pawning them off as an opportunity to improve safety out on the road. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes down to it, heavier trucks are simply more problematic than they are beneficial, and it doesn’t take a physics professor to tell you why. Adding an additional axle to a truck, by the way, would cost roughly $7,500 per truck, mere pittance in the scope of a balance sheet. But ask truckers and they’ll tell you that a $7,500 fee for new equipment is just the tip of the iceberg; there’s more where that came from, like trailer reinforcements and tire upgrades. Nothing is as simple as people would lead you to believe.
Safety groups have already come out opposing the new law, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which noted that trucks over 80,000 pounds have almost 20% more brake violations than others, a fact that would be daunting for legislators and truck lobbyists to prove otherwise. It’s basic logic: a larger, heavier vehicle is simply harder to control. The Truckload Carriers Association agrees, writing to Ribble, according to a report on American Trucker, that the passing of this new law would benefit only a minority of the industry. And add The Truck Safety Coalition to the list of groups opposing the law. The group conducted its own public opinion survey that showed strong disapproval regarding bigger trucks.
It’s hard not to see the logic behind safety advocacy groups, despite knowing full well that even safety groups have their own interests at stake. The underlying factor in this debate, and others, is that the trucking industry has yet to make safety a priority. Instances like this remind us that trucking is still a big business, and business, for the most part, is looking to get even bigger—literally and figuratively. It’s not worth putting lives in danger.