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Keep the Lid on Longer Trucks

Special to Roll Call
Hon. James L. Oberstar
Ranking Democratic Member, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
May 28, 1999

[T]rucks are getting bigger and cars are getting smaller. Fifty years ago, tractor trailers were roughly twice the length of the standard passenger car. In 1946, the length limit on trailers was 36 feet. The average Buick of the day was 18 feet long. Today, the standard compact is 15 feet long, while trucks can reach 60 feet, four times the length of a car.

Trucks have gotten heavier and heavier over the years, as well. In 1927, the truck weight limits were set at 40,000 pounds. That limit rose to 61,500 pounds in 1949 and to 73,000 in 1974. Now trucks weighing more than80,000 pounds travel our Interstate highways.

These increases in truck sizes and weights have profound implications for the motoring public. Longer trucks are harder to control. They are more vulnerable to cross winds and need more room to make turns. Heavier trucks need more stopping distance, have a greater risk of tipping over, and, in a collision, inflict more damage and injury.

Consider these statistics:

    Large trucks account for three percent of all registered vehicles and seven percent of vehicle-miles traveled, but are involved in nine percent of all fatal crashes.

    In 1997, crashes involving large trucks killed 5,355 people and injured 133,000.

    In the latest five years for which data is available, crashes involving large trucks have killed more than 25,000 people and injured more than 640,000. That averages out to 14 deaths and 35 injuries a day, every day of the year.

    Seventy-eight percent of the people killed in two-vehicle collisions involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck were occupants of the passenger vehicle.

    Bicyclists and pedestrians account for another eight percent of the fatalities in truck-related accidents.

    More than 75 percent of trucks involved in crashes had gross vehicle weight ratings exceeding 26,000 pounds. In contrast, passenger vehicles in crashes had an average gross vehicle weight rating between 2,000 pounds and 4,000 pounds.

    As vehicle weight increases, the fatal rollover crash rate increases.

    In multiple trailer combinations, the rear trailer may exhibit an exaggerated, whip-like movement in response to sudden steering. This could cause the rear trailer to overturn.

    Drivers of multiple trailer combinations often cannot sense stability problems with the rear trailer. This is not a problem with standard tractor-trailer combinations or single-unit trucks.

Beyond the issues of safety lie the questions of what larger, heavier trucks do to the conditions of the roads and bridges on which they, and we, travel. According to a study by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), a single heavy truck, weighing 80,000 pounds, can do as much damage to roads and bridges as 9,600 passenger cars. Furthermore, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that a 90,000-pound truck would create two-thirds more wear and tear on the infrastructure than one weighing 80,000 pounds.

This information came from a
US House online article.

*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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