Rebuild infrastructure, but keep longer and heavier trucks off highways

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I recently read a piece in The Hill in support of infrastructure improvement and productive freight transportation.

These are both noble initiatives that I wholeheartedly support. How we get there is another question. The author proposes we achieve those objectives through the widespread deployment of longer double-trailer trucks on our nation’s highways, and I could not disagree more.

As a lifelong conservative Republican, I believe that free enterprise and fewer burdensome regulations enable American prosperity and economic growth.

As a retired United States Army General Officer, I value efficient logistics and productivity.

{mosads}And in my role as chairman of the board of the American Security Council Foundation, I firmly believe that we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil and secure our future energy needs right here at home.


The proposal to adopt longer double-trailer trucks, though, undermines our basic values of developing sound public policy, ensuring public safety and wisely investing taxpayer dollars. 

This proposal is little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and does not take into account years of research that confirm bigger trucks mean more dangerous roads and more damaged infrastructure. Further, increases in the size or weight of trucks have always meant more trucks on our roads, not fewer.

I am clearly not the only one who has heard both sides of the issue and decided that allowing more dangerous, more damaging trucks onto our roads and into our communities is a bad idea.

In 2015, the Senate took up the issue of longer double-trailer trucks, called “Double 33s,” and strongly rejected that concept on a bipartisan vote.

Earlier that same year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) delivered its report on Double 33s at the request of Congress—after three years of analysis by some of the nation’s top transportation researchers, the Department recommended against any changes in truck size and weight laws.

In the report, USDOT found that these longer double-trailer trucks take 22 feet longer to stop than twin-trailer trucks on the road today—if you drive a passenger vehicle, those 22 feet could make all the difference for your safety and wellbeing, and that of your family.

The report also found that double-trailer trucks had 58 percent higher out-of-service violation rates than single-trailer trucks. This is a critical point because a study published last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that a truck with any out-of-service violation is 362 percent more likely to be involved in a crash.

Further, an earlier U.S. Department of Transportation study found that trucks with multiple trailers have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single-trailer trucks. With these research findings in mind, adding 10 feet of length onto double-trailer trucks is beyond me.

And that brings me to the ill-conceived idea of heavier trucks, which is another proposal rejected on Capitol Hill in 2015. USDOT found in its 2015 report that increasing the truck weight limit from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds caused 47 percent higher crash rates, and raising the weight limit to 97,000 pounds increased crash rates by 99 to 400 percent. 

As the elected Sheriff of my county, I would be in violation of my oath to protect public safety if I were to endorse such an imprudent proposal.

Longer and heavier trucks cause massive damage to our infrastructure as well. USDOT also found that longer double-trailer trucks could cause up to $1.1 billion in bridge costs, and heavier trucks could cause $1.1 to $2.2 billion. 

We want to invest in our infrastructure, not tear it down, especially when it is well documented that it is already in poor condition.

We also should consider the truck drivers who work hard to support their families by delivering the goods we need to keep the American economy moving and growing. Their jobs become much harder and more dangerous operating longer or heavier trucks, and it speaks volumes that so many truck drivers, themselves, are against these trucks.

As an elected law enforcement official and military veteran, I do not take my participation in legislative debates lightly.

However, on this issue, the stakes are just too high. As a grandfather, I cannot stand aside if it means our children and grandchildren are put in harm’s way on our nation’s highways because of poorly developed public policy. 

I am issuing a clarion call to our elected officials on Capitol Hill to develop and support good public policy that grows the American economy and improves our infrastructure, but also supports the principle of keeping our roads safe and preserving our roads and bridges. 

I fully support new and innovative ideas, but allowing heavier and longer trucks on our highways is not one of them.

Don Smith is currently serving his fourth term as Sheriff of Putnam County, N.Y. He is a retired United States Army Brigadier General and is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal and Bronze Star, among many other awards. Sheriff Smith also serves as Chairman of the Board of the American Security Council Foundation.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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