Trucking’s Legislative Wish List Includes Use of Longer Combination Vehicles
Longer is not better, and certainly is not safer
The primary reason a trucking company exists is to make a profit, and the math is obvious: hauling more freight for less expense boosts profits. In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with that formula. Profitable companies hire more workers, well, usually. But if trucking companies can haul more freight with the same number of drivers, that does not produce more jobs. Bigger, longer, heavier loads, buzzing down our highways alongside our families, is not a formula for better safety.
There has to be a final limit on how big, how long, and how heavy big rigs can be on our roads. Those limits are perfectly fine where they are: 80,000 pounds, 40 tons, is enough. I’m all for things which improves the economy and raises profits for companies, but only if they come without the cost of decreased safety for you and me, the motoring public.
Big trucks do not rule the roads, or at least they should not. We should all share the roads, with equal rights to our safety as to corporate profits. Do not put corporate profits ahead of public safety. Below is a great article published by John D. Schulz of logisticsmgmt.com which explains the situation in great detail and showcases just how close this is to becoming a reality, and a major problem for Missouri’s roadways.
The trucking industry would like to see greater use of longer combination vehicles, specifically 33-foot twin trailers instead of the currently legal 28-foot “pups” that dot the major interstates right now.
No less an authority than FedEx Corp. Chairman Fred Smith said recently there is a “good chance” Congress would soon allow the 33-foot combinations that provide 18 percent greater productivity for trucking companies. They would be used mostly by LTL carriers such as FedEx Freight, which could gain greater flexibilities and efficiency in using the longer combination vehicles.
Smith recently said in a conference call with analysts that 33-foot trailers would be “the biggest single thing that could be done in this country that would help the environment and improve the productivity of our logistics systems.” He also cited improved safety and less fuel use as reasons to adopt the new size limits.
David S. Congdon, president and CEO of Old Dominion Freight Line, the leading LTL carrier in terms of profitability, said he was also backing greater use of twin-33s.
“I see us implementing this thing on some of our longest haul lanes that had the highest amount of freight lane density first,” Congdon recently told analysts on a conference call. “So it will be something that we will be putting them in as we buy new trailers.”
According to the latest compilation of revenue and mileage data compiled by the American
Trucking Associations, combination trucks logged 168.4 billion miles in 2013, or an average of 69,000 miles per truck. That figure would include not only 28-foot trailers in double- and triple combinations but also double 48-foot trailers and other combinations.
Congdon said no decision has been made on retrofitting or extending ODFL’s fleet of current 28s.
“The cost of that has turned up a little bit higher than we originally thought, but I just see it as not a major transformational thing,” he said. “If we were able to haul triple trailers all of a sudden across the country, then we’d see a transformational change.”
The measure could be slipped into the short-term highway funding legislation that was working its way through Congress at press time. It recently was included in an appropriations bill pass by the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee.
Already, the trucking lobby was laying the groundwork for backing such a measure, touting its safety record despite the fact that absolute numbers of truck-related fatalities has risen the last two years as more trucks crowd the highways. But the truck fatality rate is dropping per 1 million miles.
“The truck-involved fatality rate has decreased 74 percent since 1975 and in the last decade alone, it has dropped 38 percent,” Tom Kretsinger, president and CEO of American Central Transport, recently told Congress while representing the American Trucking Associations. “But continued improvement will require an acknowledgement of the principal causes of truck crashes
and appropriate countermeasures.”
Kretsinger cited data that highlights the role of the driver in 87 percent of truck crashes and adds that addressing driver behavior and truck safety falls into three broad categories “rules, enforcement and a partnership to promote voluntary initiatives.”
ATA is pushing for mandatory use of electronic logging devices, electronic stability control and mandatory speed limiters for large trucks set no higher than 65 miles per hour, among other initiatives.
On enforcement, he urged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to encourage more traffic enforcement coupled with a limited inspection, citing FMCSA data indicating that this highway enforcement approach is “at least four times more effective at preventing crashes and saving lives” than vehicle-based roadside inspections.
“The trucking industry is justifiably proud of its long-term safety record,” Kretsinger said. “However, to continue this trend we will require more creative approaches and acknowledgment of the most common causes of truck crashes.”
Top officials of the American Trucking Associations recently held a conference call with reporters to outline their legislative priorities. Their top goal is a sustainable, long-term highway reauthorization bill, but that does not look like it will happen. Instead, Congress seems content to pass its 33rd short term funding extension in the last six years.
Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs Chris Spear said such a short-term fix is hardly ideal, saying: “That can has a lot of dents from being kicked (down the road) so many times.”
ATA Executive Vice President and Chief of National Advocacy Dave Osiecki, calling ATA a “safety-first organization,” outlined a few other legislative priorities for the $700 billion trucking industry beyond the short-term highway funding fix.
Electronic logging devices: Osiecki says this industry has stayed on paper log books for too long.
An ELD rulemaking at DOT is on track to be published by September of this year.
Drug and alcohol testing: ATA wants a national clearinghouse where trucking employers can determine whether a person has recorded a past positive test. “We want to see it this year, if possible and it’s on track,” Osiecki says.
A second issue is hair testing instead of urine-based testing for illicit drugs. Two identical bills have been introduced in the Senate and House, and the prospect is strong that some sort of hair follicle testing standard may be coming in the next few months. “Both bills are heavily bipartisan,” Spear says. “We worked extensively on this. We have support in both chambers. The opportunity to get it done this year is very high.”
Graduated commercial driver’s license: Graduated licensing is not a new concept for new passenger drivers, 16-17-year-olds. “Graduated licensing works,” Osiecki says. It’s a way to easy drivers into driving. We think it’s about time some research and a pilot program begins for a CDL to get some experience and attract some people who might not be in this industry.”