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With the Senate addressing the reauthorization of federal highway safety programs, it’s not a surprise that big trucks are also an issue before Congress. Earlier this year, Senators and House Representatives introduced Senate Bill 747 (S. 747) and House Bill 763 (H.B. 763) to their respective bodies. In so doing, the group has stirred the debate on the issue of “bigger” trucks and highway safety.
Under S. 747, and sister legislation H.R. 763, both titled the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (SETA), states can allow heavier commercial vehicles on their highways. This proposed legislation would increase the poundage limits from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds and increase axle limits to six.
Supporters of the legislation, submitted at the urging of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, argue it offers many benefits. Commercial shippers would have more truck space which in turn reduces fuel costs and other expenses. Advocates say the change would eliminate at least one competitive disadvantage that American producers face in comparison to those in Canada, European Union, and Mexico.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA), as well as other organizations, support the Congressional bills. According to the ATA, 30 percent more tonnage will need to be hauled by the year 2025. In the absence of this new law, the increased workloads will translate into 18 percent more trucks on the highways.
While the trucking industry embraces the draft law, many other groups oppose the new legislation. Organizations, such as AAA, argue that bigger trucks will lead to bigger problems and more danger for passenger vehicles.
While millions of commercial trucks travel this nation’s roadways, they account for less than 4 percent of all registered vehicles. According to the University of Michigan’s National Center for Truck and Bus Statistics, an average of 5,061 trucks are involved in fatal traffic crashes each year. The Center also found that nearly 73 percent of fatal truck accidents involved vehicles in the heaviest Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) class.
Currently, the Senate bill is being considered by the Senate Finance Committee. Its sister bill, which has 54 sponsors, is before the Ways and Means Committee.
Semi trucks are an integral part of a healthy American economy, but they also place passenger drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists at risk for serious injuries. When our nation’s lawmakers consider these draft laws, they must carefully weigh all of the available information.