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By Jim Adler October 29, 2015

Two bills pending in Congress propose allowing longer, heavier semi trucks on the nation’s highways by adding 10 feet to the maximum allowable length of big rigs hauling two trailers. The bills are plowing through Congress, but the Obama administration, safety advocates and some in the trucking industry oppose them.

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The changes are part of the Senate and House of Representatives versions of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s yearly spending bill.

Bigger, Heavier Trailers

Current law allows a single 53-foot trailer or two 28-foot trailers, whose 56-foot total already is three feet larger. Under the pending legislation, 18-wheelers hauling two trailers could expand those trailers to 33 feet each, for a total increase of 10 feet, thus expanding their length to 66 feet, a 13 foot advantage over single-trailer trucks.

The current weight limit is 80,000 pounds, established in 1982. One of the bills before Congress would increase the weight limit to 91,000 pounds.

Proponents of the Bills

Proponents of the bills say they would enable more shipping of the enormous amount of goods Americans are ordering online.

Proponents are mostly large carriers that transport vast numbers of relatively small freight items — carriers such as UPS, FedEx and Con-way Freight. The growth of such shipping in recent years has led to a 15% increase in truck traffic from 2002 to 2012, says the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Having an extra 10 feet total for double-trailer loads would enable truckers to have 15% more volume to fill. Currently, such trucks often fill their trailers before the goods’ weight exceeds the maximum limits allowed.

The Texas Trucking Association favors the bill that would let dual-trailer trucks be longer, but is not in favor of the bill letting trucks weigh more.

John Esparza of the TTA called longer lengths “a good thing” since trucks carrying more volume would lower the number of trucks on roads.

Opponents of the Bills

Opponents include the U.S. DOT, carriers who tend to use single trailers and safety advocates.

Safety advocates argue that bigger trucks would be even more unsafe than the current tractor trailers, which are routinely involved in fatal crashes where only occupants of other vehicles, not big rigs, are victims. Safety advocates also emphasize that big rigs already take far longer to stop than passenger vehicles, and rigs with two larger trailers, as proposed, would need an extra 22 feet to stop.

The U.S. DOT sent a letter to Congress advising against allowing longer trailers in part because there have been insufficient safety tests.

Also, smaller carriers say making this change would put them at a competitive disadvantage, compelling them to switch from single trailers to double trailers, says Shane Reese, spokesman for the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks. They also point out that bigger, heavier loads would do greater damage to roads and bridges.

The American Association of Railroads also opposes the changes, saying they’d increase highway congestion and cause more damage to bridges and highways.

Jim Adler & Associates favors Americans’ safety over trucking industry profits or convenience. Given that 18 wheeler accidents are all too commonplace already, passing this legislation prior to additional safety testing is premature.

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