Guest Op-Ed: Don’t Let Safety Take a Back Seat to Special Interests

Deadly truck crashes happen every day on our roads and highways across the nation.

Unfortunately, this major public health and safety problem is worsening.

Since 2009, the number of truck crashes has shot up by 45 percent — resulting in a 57 percent increase in truck crash injuries and a 20 percent increase in truck crash fatalities. In 2015 alone, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes and 116,000 more were injured.

Congress would not tolerate this death and injury toll if it were occurring in any other mode of transportation. Our nation’s leaders certainly should not be considering any weakening of current truck safety protections to accommodate a few select industry members calling for even longer, heavier trucks.

One particularly divisive issue is a major national policy change that would increase truck lengths by at least ten feet. A handful of large trucking companies and shippers are advocating for a configuration commonly called “Double 33s” – which are two 33-foot trailers towed in tandem. Though being billed by proponents as a “small tweak,” this would amount to trucks on the highways potentially topping 90 feet long, which is equivalent to the length of an eight-story office building on wheels. These trucks At a hearing this week before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, the President and CEO of FedEx Freight Corporation testified in support of Double 33s. The written testimony argued that this increase in truck size would result in fewer trucks on the road.

However, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the history of our country, every past size and weight increase has resulted in more trucks on our roads. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study (DOT Study), any reduction in truck vehicle miles traveled would be wiped out within one year by increases and shifts in freight transportation. This change to national surface transportation policy would result in a major disruption in multi-modalism and diversion of freight from railroads that are often safer and more environmentally friendly.

The DOT Study’s technical reports also showed that a Double 33 is less safe to operate than the current configuration of Double 28s. These longer trucks require an additional 22 feet to stop, which will make collisions resulting from the truck striking another vehicle in the rear more likely and potentially more devastating.

Research also shows that double trailer trucks have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single trailer trucks. Longer trucks take more time to pass, cross into adjacent lanes, interfere with traffic as well as swing into opposing lanes on curves and when making right-angle turns. These serious safety problems mean big trouble for those travelling alongside these huge trucks.

Supporters of Double 33s consistently cite dubious science, for which they footed the bill, which misstates and misrepresents the benefits of these longer configurations. False claims of Double 33s increasing safety and productivity are nothing more than a play for competitive advantage over the rest of the industry. Simply put, supporters of Double 33s are placing profits over people.

Consequently, there is a growing coalition of diverse voices opposed to increasing truck length. Families of truck crash victims and survivors, public health and safety organizations, truck drivers, law enforcement officials, first responders, short line and regional railroads, railway suppliers and contractors, and rail labor are united in staunch opposition to Double 33s.

Truck drivers and their representatives can speak firsthand to the difficulties of operating these massive rigs. Considering that the Department of Labor consistently ranks driving a truck as one of the ten most dangerous jobs in America, further imperiling their safety should be a non-starter. And, the public has spoken loud and clear in poll after poll that they oppose bigger trucks.

The aggressive push to mandate all states to allow longer, less safe trucks will impose significant hardship on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Additionally, states have expressed serious concerns about being forced to accept Double 33s. Just last month, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, which found that 20 percent of the nation’s highways had poor pavement conditions. Moreover, one in 11 of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that $142 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis over the next 20 years to significantly improve conditions and performance. The aforementioned DOT Study recognized the adverse effects that Double 33s would have on our bridges, including a one-time cost of $1.1 billion to strengthen and replace more than 2,000 bridges.

This misguided policy proposal is nothing more than a corporate handout for a small segment of the trucking industry. It will endanger motorists and truck drivers, inflict more damage on our suffering infrastructure, preempt state laws throughout the nation, and it does nothing to improve freight efficiency. Lawmakers should be considering commonsense proposals to advance safety, not prioritizing the interests of a select few pushing Double 33s at the expense of public safety.

John Lannen has served as Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition since 2005. In this capacity, he has worked closely with truck crash survivors, their families, and other safety groups, as well as law enforcement and industry members to advance truck safety.   As Executive Director, Mr. Lannen directs both non-profit partners of the Coalition, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT). Harry Adler has worked for the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) since 2015. He connects with families of truck crash victims and survivors to ensure that their truck safety concerns are heard by the public, members of industry, and lawmakers.

The views expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Eno Center for Transportation.

For an opposing view, see this guest op-ed.

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