NHTSA tells Congress not to increase trucking limitations

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advised Congress on Friday not to change current size and weight laws for the trucking industry after completing an inconclusive study on increasing the current limitations.

At the heart of the study is the question of allowing double 33-foot trailers with six axles to carry bigger, heavier loads on Interstates throughout the U.S.

The double trailers are already in operation in some states, and trucking-industry advocates said allowing them throughout the country would increase trucking productivity and efficiency, at little cost to safety and highway maintenance.

The NHTSA told Congress that there isn’t enough data to make determinations on whether increasing truck size and weight would be safe.

Crash data on the larger trucks did not give Department of Transportation (DOT) researchers an indication as to whether the crashed trucks had been fully loaded or overweight, or whether the cargo was equally distributed.

The DOT also lacks models to predict bridge deterioration from the heavier trucks, rendering it impossible to determine any long-term costs from maintenance.

The advice to table any changes in the law has drawn the ire of trucking-industry advocates, such as American Trucking Association President and CEO Bill Graves, who is firmly in favor of larger twin trailers.

Graves said he believes the timing of the DOT report was politically motivated, and intended to support the Obama administration’s opposition to increasing national size and weight requirements.

"Given the timing of the release of this study, it is an obvious attempt to promote administration policy, rather than give Congress the unbiased information it requested.” Graves said.

Not everyone in the trucking industry, however, supports making trucks bigger and heavier.

The Teamsters Union has long opposed the idea, saying proponents of larger trucks are motivated by the drive to increase corporate profit margins. The union said the highway system isn’t built to accommodate trucks that large.

“Corporate greed is the only thing driving the trucking industry to push reckless legislation that would put heavier and longer trucks on our highways,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in 2013. “Our members travel the nation’s highways every day and know fully the dangers of putting bigger trucks on a highway system already in disrepair.”

Whichever way Congress swings, the decision will have to be made soon. The 2015 appropriations bill that funds the DOT needs to be passed by July 31, when a two-month extension of the previous appropriations bill expires. The bill currently before the House of Representatives includes a provision allowing the 33-foot twin trailers on the nation's highways.

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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