| June 02, 2009

Industry debates bigger trucks
The battle over whether federal laws should expand truck weights and lengths or keep the present limitations heated up this spring.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Teamsters and safety groups support the current limits of 80,000 pounds and 53 feet for tractor-trailers on interstate highways to the National Highway System. The NHS covers some 160,000 miles of highway, while interstates represent 44,000 miles.

The American Trucking Associations, the National Private Truck Council and some shipping organizations favor expanding these limits. They support the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009, or H.R. 1799. It was introduced by Reps. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) March 30 and was referred to a House subcommittee with 12 co-sponsors.

That legislation would allow trucks a maximum gross weight of 97,000 pounds, provided the vehicle has at least six axles, including a tridem axle group with a weight limit of 51,000 pounds. The heavier weight limit, as well as axle weight increases of up to 2,000 pounds, would be allowed only if approved by a state legislature.

The bill would increase the annual Heavy Vehicle Use Tax to a maximum of $800. Funds generated by the increase would be dedicated to pay for bridge projects in states allowing the operation of the heavier vehicles.

The NPTC commissioned the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to study the issue. That research indicates heavier, longer trucks would yield significant improvements in fuel consumption, cost, congestion, distribution efficiency and driver availability.

On the other side of the issue, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, or S. 779 and H.R. 1618, March 19. This would extend the current limit of 80,000 pounds and 53 feet on interstate highways. It was referred to a House subcommittee the next day and had 67 sponsors.

On May 4, safety advocates launched the StopBiggerTrucks.org grassroots campaign to ask Congress to reject size and weight increases for trucks.

They noted a new poll by Lake Research Partners that indicates 80 percent of Americans believe bigger trucks will decrease highway safety. Only 16 percent would support Congress approving bigger overweight trucks and rolling back the 1991 congressionally mandated freeze on double and triple trailer trucks.
- Jill Dunn

Truck stop medical clinics close
Professional Drivers Medical Depots permanently closed its five clinics. Dr. John McElligott, who helped found PDMD, says other parties are interested in the locations, but he won’t be involved if they reopen.

McElligott says he will continue to refer truckers to any of about a dozen clinics when they call (865) 862-8902.

PDMD locations were at truck stops in West Memphis, Ark.; Knoxville; El Paso and Laredo, Texas; and Atlanta.
- Staff reports

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