In its attempt to define size and weight limits, the Department of Transportation finds itself in the middle of controversy.
This past December, the Federal Highway Administration selected the types of vehicles to compare in its Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study, as ordered by Congress in the last highway bill. It gathered considerable amounts of data on how the configurations would affect safety, infrastructure, enforcement, and competition among the modes. The goal was to allow Congress to make informed decisions on size and weight limits for the next highway bill.
This study compared six different vehicles to the two standard workhorses of the industry, the 5-axle, 80,000-pound tractor-semitrailer, and the 6-axle, 80,000-pound tractor pulling two 28-foot or 28.5-foot trailers.
There was skepticism at that time from the safety advocacy groups that oppose increases in vehicle size and weight. Along with those groups, members of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) also expressed concern. The organization wanted to know what steps researchers would take to look at the impact of a size and weight increase on small carriers. Others wanted to make sure the research would also look at the environmental impact of having to do more highway repairs due to bigger, heavier trucks. On the other hand, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) supports giving states more flexibility to increase size and weight limits.
Now that a preliminary review by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) has indicated possible weaknesses in the DOT’s study, opponents of higher limits seized on the review as evidence for their cause. The committee examined “desk scans” or surveys of past research that the department used to inform its study and found that, in fact, the selection of analysis methods did not appear to have been a consequence of desk scans. The TRB recommended that the department continue work on the scans.
Early in April, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass, was joined by Jimmy Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters union, Joan Claybrook, chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. They cited a report by the Multimodal Transportation and Infrastructure Consortium, done at Marshal University in West Virginia, that found longer and heavier trucks have a higher fatal crash rate than current standard configurations.
The next public debate is due May 6, at which time, the DOT will hopefully have responded to the concerns before then.
What do you think about the size and weight study?