Trucking fights rev up as House preps highway bill

Trucking fights rev up as House preps highway bill
© Getty Images

Fights over a host of proposed changes to truck safety regulations are heating up as the House is preparing to move a long-term highway funding bill next week. 

Truck companies are pushing Congress to increase a current limit of 28-foot trailers on trucks that carry two loads to rigs that are 33 feet long apiece in an upcoming highway funding bill. They are also asking lawmakers to increase the cap on the weight of trucks from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds. 

Other proposals include a move to lower the minimum age of trucks drivers from 21 years of age to 18 and tweaks to trucker work scheduling rules. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Safety groups are opposing all the moves, arguing that longer and heavier trucks and young drivers who are allowed to work more hours will make U.S. roads less safe. 

The proposal to increase the length of twin-trailer trucks was included in a highway funding bill that was passed by the Senate in July, over the objection of safety advocates. The fight is revving up again now that the House is bringing its version of the highway bill to the floor next week. 

"As Congress moves closer to approving a proposal that would substantially reduce truck congestion and significantly cut down on truck-related accidents, some truckload carriers are coming out of the woodwork to warn against the supposed perils of a modest extension in the length of twin trailers," Coalition for Efficient and Responsible Trucking spokesman Ed Patru said in an email to reporters on Friday. 

"Never mind the fact that 33s have established a sterling safety record over the years on some of the nation’s most heavily travelled highways, including the third-busiest toll road in the country, the Florida Turnpike," he continued. 

Safety advocates have painted a starkly different picture, railing against heavier and longer truckloads and the idea of allowing young drivers to get behind the wheel of trucks. 

"In all of my years of working to advance safety in Congress, this is the worst and broadest assault on truck safety that I have ever witnessed," Citizens for Reliable and Safety Highways (CRASH) Chairwoman Joan Claybrook said in a statement when the highway bill was approved by House Transportation Committee.

"It is the 'El Nino' of industry attacks on truck safety — an intense storm of industry lobbyists battering commonsense laws, a flood of money into campaign coffers, and severe and sustained impacts on public safety resulting in widespread deaths and destruction,” Claybrook continued.  

Trucking groups have said the proposal to boost the weight and length of trucks would increase the amount of cargo that can be shipped in the U.S. on a single trip without requiring drivers to work extra hours. 

They have accused critics of the proposal of doing the bidding of the railroad industry, which stands to gain shipping customers if truck capacity is limited. 

"What is motivating these truckload carriers to divide the trucking industry? In a word: profits. Nothing more," Patru said in his Friday email. "Despite their lofty rhetoric, their opposition to twin 33s has nothing to do with safety concerns, nor does it have anything to do with fear about wear-and-tear on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure." 

Opponents of increasing the length and weight of trucks have countered that the changes would make it hard for trucks to be operated safely on U.S. roads. 

"Operating and assembling a tractor trailer is physically demanding work," Truckload Carriers Association said in a recent statement after a press conference at the Capitol. 

"The strain of this work increases greatly with the size of the truck," the group continued. "Although drivers have weathered many changes over the years, requiring them to break up 91-foot-long trucks four times on each load, and to manhandle a 3,000-pound converter-gear is simply too much to ask." 

House leaders have largely been silent on the trucking debates, but a trio of senators have railed against the proposals in recent weeks. Additionally, one House member, Rep. Reid RibbleReid James RibbleFormer Sen. Tom Coburn dies at 72 Ex-GOP lawmakers side with NY in Supreme Court case over Trump tax returns Former GOP lawmakers, officials ask court to enforce House subpoena on McGahn MORE (R-Wis.), has introduced legislation to allow states to decide for themselves whether they want to allow heavier trucks on their roads.

"The U.S. population has almost doubled since our Interstate highway system was built, and demand for freight shipping is only going up,"  Ribble said in a statement when his measure introduced in September.

"The SAFE Trucking Act will help us safely move more of the things Americans want with fewer trucks taking up space on the road, and it is based on data to ensure that truck stopping times and pavement wear are as good or better than our current trucks," he continued. "When we can increase efficiency, decrease traffic, and make everyone safer in the process, that is a win, and the SAFE Trucking Act is able to help us achieve all these objectives."

The House is expected to vote on the highway bill as early as Tuesday once it clears the Rules Committee on Monday.