Time to put short transport vehicles for horses into park

The double-deck livestock trailers that are seen traversing the country were designed with the transport of short-necked livestock species such as cattle and sheep in mind. However, it is not uncommon for livestock haulers to cram adult horses into double-decker trailers with ceilings sometimes as low as 63 inches. 

With average adult horse height falling between 84 and 92 inches, these conditions are inhumane and dangerous for horses. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), horses should be transported with at least adequate headroom to be able to stand with normal posture, but these types of trailers do not accommodate that requirement. Horses naturally rely on their head and neck position for balance, and being transported under conditions that require them to keep their necks bent and heads down adds an additional degree of discomfort to already cramped conditions.

Besides being an inhumane way to transport horses, double-deck trailers pose a major safety threat to the drivers of the imbalanced, oversized vehicles, as well as to other motorists. We have witnessed what can happen when standard 18-wheel tractor-trailers careen out of control on a highway. Now imagine a driver trying to control a double-deck trailer carrying 40 1,200-pound horses if he or she has to stop suddenly or takes a turn too fast. Unfortunately, crashes due to these factors have occurred, and the results of the accidents are devastating. In addition to injuring the trailer driver and other motorists involved, horses have been trapped inside the trailers for hours and crushed to death when the dividing ceiling collapsed in the accident. Following an accident in 2007 in Wadsworth, Ill., authorities worked for five hours before they were able to free the horses from the wreckage.

It is with these animal-welfare and driver-safety concerns in mind that I will be introducing the bipartisan Horse Transportation Safety Act in the Senate. Specifically, the bill would prohibit the transportation of horses in interstate commerce in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another. 

In addition, the legislation would make it a civil penalty carrying a fine of at least $100, but not more than $550, per horse involved for using a trailer containing two or more levels to transport horses. 

Agriculture interests and animal-protection groups alike support our bill, including the AVMA and the National Agriculture Safety Database.

This bill has drawn broad bipartisan support in the past — most recently unanimously passing the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure by a voice vote in July of 2010. Given the continued support of the agriculture and animal-rights communities for prohibiting this inhumane and dangerous practice of horse transportation, as well as the history of strong support in the Congress, it is our hope that by advancing this legislation as a bipartisan, bicameral measure, we will be able to secure its passage. 

Kirk is the junior senator from Illinois and has been a consistent supporter of horse-transportation legislation throughout his time in Congress.