Sorrow to Strength 2015 Press Page

In 2015, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes in the United States

Sorrow to Strength 2015 Press Page

Issue Summaries

Fact Sheets

Infographics

Statements and Letters

Media Coverage

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A Foolish Attempt to Weaken Truck Safety

From the New York Times:

The trucking industry is again pushing Congress to allow bigger and heavier trucks with overworked drivers behind the wheel onto the country’s roads.

Republican lawmakers have attached a long industry wish list to an appropriations bill that will be voted on by the House in the coming weeks. It includes provisions that would allow trucks to carry longer trailers across the country, make it harder for the Department of Transportation to require drivers get more rest before they hit the road and forbid the department from raising the minimum insurance it requires trucks and buses to carry. The insurance levels have been in effect since 1985.

Trucking companies seem to have been emboldened by their success last year in getting Congress to temporarily suspend parts of a Transportation Department regulation meant to give truck drivers at least 34 hours of rest. That rule was meant to ensure that truck drivers got at least two consecutive nights of rest after working 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight days. The industry had complained — wrongly in our view — that the rule, which went into effect in July 2013, “exacerbates congestion” and could make highways less safe by forcing more truck drivers onto the roads during morning rush hours.

Read the full article here.

Safety Advocates Call on U.S. DOT to Issue Rule Requiring Crash Avoidance Technology for Large Trucks

For Immediate Release: Contact: Beth Weaver (301) 814-4088 February 18,, 2015 beth_weaver@verizon.net Safety Advocates Call on U.S. DOT to Issue Rule Requiring Crash Avoidance Technology for Large Trucks As Deaths and Injuries from Truck Crashes Continue to Rise, Federal Regulators Must Require Lifesaving Technology in All New Large Trucks WASHINGTON, D.C. – Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, the Center for Auto Safety and Road Safe America, filed a petition today with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requesting that the agency initiate rulemaking to require forward collision avoidance and mitigation braking (F-CAM) systems on all new large trucks and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or more.

F-CAM technology uses radar and sensors to first alert the driver and then to apply the brakes when a crash is imminent. F-CAM systems employ a Forward Collision Warning (FCW) to alert a driver when his/her vehicle gets too close to another vehicle that is stopped or traveling more slowly in front of his/her vehicle, giving the driver a chance to brake. When the system determines that a crash is about to occur, a Collision Mitigation Braking (CMB) system automatically applies the brakes to avoid the crash or reduce its severity. NHTSA estimates that current generation F-CAM systems can prevent over 2,500 crashes each year and future generation systems could prevent over 6,300 crashes annually. However, the agency has not yet decided to move ahead to require this basic crash avoidance technology.

“The safety technology is available to reduce the carnage on America’s roads resulting from rear-end crashes by large trucks,” said Henry Jasny, Senior Vice President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “The NHTSA can take action to improve safety and reduce preventable losses by requiring F-CAM technology on all large commercial motor vehicles.”

Truck crashes are a serious public safety threat. Every year on average, over 4,000 people are killed and nearly 100,000 are injured in crashes involving large trucks. Since 2009, the number of fatalities resulting from collisions involving large trucks has risen 16 percent and injuries have increased by 40 percent. The annual cost to society from crashes involving commercial motor vehicles is estimated to be over $99 billion. According to NHTSA data, from 2003-2008, there were 32,000 crashes involving a truck striking the rear of a vehicle resulting in at least 300 fatalities and injuring over 15,000 people annually. However, since 1,600 large trucks are involved in fatal crashes in which the front end of the truck is the initial point of impact, the annual death toll in this crash mode may be far higher than 300 deaths each year. These crashes are precisely the type of collisions that F-CAM technology can prevent.

John Lannen, Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition commented, “In work zone areas and when traffic is significantly slowed or at a complete stop, cars are particularly vulnerable to being rear ended by large trucks. Trucks are overrepresented in fatal highway crashes, and they are even more so in fatal work zone crashes. This is why it is imperative that F-CAM technology is required safety equipment in large trucks.”

With total tonnage of truck freight shipments predicted to increase by as much as 63 percent by 2040, the need for F-CAM technology has never been greater. While nearly every truck manufacturer currently offers some type of F-CAM system on new vehicles, there is no national standard for F-CAM system performance and not all buyers purchase this safety option. Thus, few trucks are actually equipped with the technology despite its availability. Only 3 percent of the more than 3 million standard tractor-trailers (class 8) on the road today are equipped with some form of this technology.

Steve Owings, Road Safe America Co-Founder and immediate past Chairman of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, lost his son, Cullum, when the car Cullum was driving was barreled into from behind, in stopped traffic, by a tractor-trailer. That big-rig’s driver was speeding 8 mph over the posted speed limit using cruise control and didn’t touch his brakes until his truck was within 100 feet of the stopped traffic. “There is little doubt that Cullum would still be alive today if only that truck had F-CAM technology,” Owings said.

Judith Williams, of Merrillville, Indiana, whose daughters, Lindsey and Yvette Williams, grandchildren, Yazmin and Arielle Goldman and Jamin and Jazmin Osborne, and brother, Amado Mangual, were all killed in a truck crash last year in Jasper County, Indiana, stated, “I was devastated after I learned technology already exists that could have prevented my family’s crash.” The crash that killed Judith’s family occurred when a truck rear-ended their SUV in slowed traffic approaching a work zone area. Judith continued, “I know nothing I do will bring back my loved ones, but I will work to ensure that no one else has to go through the tremendous loss and heartache my family and I must cope with for the rest of our lives.”

Federal regulatory action has previously expedited the installation of critical vehicle safety advances, such as airbags and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems, by requiring these safety systems as standard equipment rather than as expensive options. Federal regulation remains the best and swiftest means to ensure the latest safety advances reach the majority of the traveling public.

Jane Mathis, lost her son David and David’s bride of five days, Mary Kathryn, when a truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel and rear ended their car which was stopped in traffic. Mathis, a board member of Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.) and a member of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) stated, “David and Mary Kathryn might be alive today if F-CAM had been in use at the time of their crash. Every moment that NHTSA neglects to issue a rule, they miss an opportunity to keep a family whole.”

“Many hundreds of lives could be saved each year if trucks are equipped with automatic braking systems,” said Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety. “The NHTSA should move quickly to require this safety technology on all trucks.”

Read the petition here:

Petition for Rule Making (PDF)

Petition Crash List (PDF)

Press Release (PDF)

While large trucking companies lobby for bigger semitrailers, National Troopers Coalition chairman points to poll showing three of four Americans oppose increases

Minneapolis, Minn.—While major trucking companies lobby Congress to allow longer and heavier semitrailers, a just-released poll found that three of four Americans oppose longer and heavier semitrailer trucks on the highway.

“Speaking on behalf of the over 45,000 members of the National Troopers Coalition, I can tell you that law enforcement officers have known for quite some time that bigger trucks threaten highway safety, and this poll shows that the public knows it, too,” said National Troopers Coalition Chairman Mat Hodapp, a Minnesota state trooper.

The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes truck size and weight increases, commissioned the live-operator survey of 1,000 nationwide respondents. The poll was conducted January 5-8, 2015, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

View the full PDF here

TRUCK CRASH VICTIMS RESPOND TO ATA AND WERNER ENTERPRISES ALLEGATIONS

In response to recent misleading allegations made by Werner Enterprises and the American Trucking Associations at a Senate hearing, truck safety victims today sent the attached letter to the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Jennifer Tierney (Kernersville, NC) who suffered the loss of her father in a truck crash said “It is not only disingenuous, but truly insulting to families like mine who have lost a loved one in a truck crash for the trucking industry to boast about declining rates of truck fatalities. According to NHTSA data, this is the fourth year in a row that truck crash fatalities have actually increased, not decreased—we need to set the record straight.”

Jane Mathis (St. Augustine, FL) who lost her son and daughter in law in a 2004 truck crash, said “The misguided agenda by the ATA and Werner Enterprises of pushing bigger, longer trucks driven by tired truckers will continue to result in more, not less deaths and injuries on our nation’s highways.”

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February 6, 2015
The Honorable John Thune, Chairman
The Honorable Bill Nelson, Ranking Member
Committee on Commerce, Science and
Transportation

The Honorable Deb Fischer, Chairman
Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and
Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson and Chairman Fischer:

As families who have lost loved ones in truck crashes, we are writing this letter to set the record straight about the current status of truck safety and to respond to the cynical and callous allegations made by Werner Enterprises at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security hearing on January 29, 2015, “Improving the Performance of our Transportation Networks: Stakeholder Perspectives,” and echoed by leaders of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). We respectfully request that our letter be included in the Senate hearing record.

The testimony of Werner Enterprises and recent statements by the ATA claim that truck safety is “improving” because of a meager 1.6% decline in the truck fatality rate in 2013 disregards the growing carnage on our roads and highways caused by big trucks. Unfortunately, a more important statistic measuring truck safety is the actual number of people needlessly killed in truck crashes in 2013. Recent fatality data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) shows that 3,964 people died in big truck crashes in 2013. The reality is that there was no improvement in 2013 because the death toll was higher than in 2012.

Since 2009 truck crash deaths have been steadily climbing while overall motor vehicle crash fatalities have been steadily declining, with the exception of 2012. In fact, from 2009 to 2013 there has been a significant 17% increase in truck crash deaths, or 584 more fatalities. Truck crash deaths on our nation’s highways are equivalent to a major airplane crash every week of the year. The trucking industry’s “high-fiving” because more people are being killed albeit at a slower “rate” should undermine their credibility on this issue and their relentless push in Congress for bigger, longer and more deadly trucks.

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee would challenge and reject any assertion by a hearing witness who suggested that even though there were more airplane crashes and more deaths that aviation safety was actually improving because more people, more planes and more air miles were being traveled resulting in a “lower death rate”.

We can assure you that the families and friends who buried 18,755 loved ones killed in preventable truck crashes between 2009 and 2013 do not believe that our highways are safer today because there are more trucks on the roads traveling more miles. And, neither should anyone else.

The trucking industry’s agenda of relentlessly pushing bigger, longer, overweight trucks being driven by overtired truck drivers ignores the current dismal status of truck safety and will result in even more deaths and injuries on our roads. It is unacceptable to us that the growing truck crash death toll is being masked by a statistic that measures miles and vehicles while downplaying the catastrophic loss of nearly 4,000 lives annually and ignoring the profound heartache of our families.

Sincerely,

Daphne Izer
Lisbon, ME
Founder, Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT)
Mother of Jeff Izer
Killed in a truck crash 10/10/93

Jennifer Tierney
Kernersville, NC
Board Member, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH)
Member, Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC)
Daughter of James Mooney
Killed in a truck crash 9/20/83

Dawn King
Davisburg, MI
Board Member, CRASH
Daughter of Bill Badger
Killed in a truck crash 12/23/04

Larry Liberatore
Severn, MD
Board Member, PATT
Father of Nick Liberatore
Killed in a truck crash 6/9/97

Linda Wilburn
Weatherford, OK
Board Member, PATT
Mother of Orbie Wilburn
Killed in a truck crash 9/2/02

Frank & Marchelle Wood
Falls Church, VA
Volunteers, Truck Safety Coalition
Parents of Dana Wood
Killed in a truck crash 10/15/02

Jane Mathis
St. Augustine, FL
Board Member, PATT
Member, MCSAC
Mother of David Mathis, Mother-in-Law of Mary Kathryn Mathis
Killed in a truck crash 3/25/04

Tami Friedrich Trakh
Corona, CA
Board Member, CRASH
Member, MCSAC
Sister of Kris Mercurio, Sister-in-Law of Alan Mercurio, Aunt of Brandie Rooker
& Anthony Mercurio
Killed in a truck crash 12/27/89

Marianne & Jerry Karth
Rocky Mount, NC
Volunteers, Truck Safety Coalition
Parents of AnnaLeah & Mary Karth
Killed in a truck crash 5/4/13

Michelle Novak
Franklinville, NY
Volunteer, Truck Safety Coalition
Aunt of Charles “Chuck” Novak
Killed in a truck crash 10/24/10

Ron Wood
Washington, D.C.
Volunteer, Truck Safety Coalition
Son of Betsy Wood, Brother of Lisa Wood
Martin, Uncle of Chance, Brock, & Reid Martin
Killed in a truck crash 9/20/04

cc: Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Truck Crash Victims and Labor and Safety Groups Urge Congress to Put Public Safety Before Industry Profit

Eliminating Truck Drivers’ Weekend Off Will Result in Death, Devastation and Danger on our Roads

 WASHINGTON, DC (Monday, December 8, 2014) – Today, families of truck crash victims and labor and safety groups joined U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to stop a special interest anti-safety provision being considered in the omnibus spending bill.  This provision being pushed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) would be a major change to federal truck safety regulations and dramatically increase the number of working and driving hours for truck drivers as well as repeal their two-day weekend off.

 Joan Claybrook, Chair, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), said, “Christmas is still a few weeks away but Senator Collins already is working to wrap up and deliver an expensive gift for her trucking industry allies.  She is trying to quietly slip language into the omnibus spending bill that will put trucking industry profits ahead of public safety.  Her proposal will allow trucking industry executives to force truck drivers to get behind the wheel and work for more than 80 hours a week, double the 40-hour work week of most Americans.  Unfortunately, this gift to industry will be paid for by the families across the country and tired truckers who will be put at unreasonable and unacceptable risk of death and injury on our highways.”

 Teamsters Director of Federal Legislation and Regulation, Fred P. McLuckie, said,  “As our General President Jim Hoffa aptly stated last week, Senator Collins should not be trying to use the Omnibus as a testing ground for policies that denigrate highway safety and put all the traveling public at greater risk.”

 A recent survey conducted by Lake Research Partners shows that the public understands this industry-wide problem of fatigue and the dangers it poses to motorists. This survey found overwhelming public opposition (80%) to Congress raising the number of hours a semi-truck driver is allowed to work in a week. The American public convincingly rejects increasing work and driving hours for truck drivers no matter the political affiliation, age, sex or geographic location of the respondent.

 Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, stated, “The Collins proposal to gut a key truck safety rule has not been the subject of a single House or Senate congressional hearing, undergone any comprehensive safety review or analysis by experts, or been part of an open rulemaking process for the public to provide their views and concerns.  In sharp contrast, the deal-making is happening behind closed doors as Congress rushes to finish up legislative business.  Let’s be clear.  The American public opposes it as well as truck crash victims, safety and labor groups, law enforcement and the Secretary of Transportation doesn’t want it. We urge Congress to stop this assault on safety.”

 Daphne Izer, of Maine and a founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) stated, “It’s outrageous that the Senator from my home state would try to attach this language to a must-pass spending bill. I’m also personally offended by Senator Collins’s attack on Secretary Foxx for sending a letter to Congress urging retention of the evidence and research-based current rule. Secretary Foxx’s objections are consistent with the DOT’s mission to reduce fatalities and injuries and protect the driving public.”  Izer’s 17-year-old son Jeff and three of his friends were killed on October 10, 1993, when a Walmart truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel.

 Ron Wood, whose mother Betsy, sister Lisa and her three children, Chance (age 4), Brock (age 2) and Reid (6 weeks old), were killed near Sherman, Texas when a tractor trailer driver fell asleep behind the wheel and crossed a median into oncoming traffic, said, “I urge our Members of Congress to support their constituents, and prevent the dangerous Collins Amendment from progressing any further. A fatigue-related truck crash happens in a second. Grief and loss last a lifetime.”

Download/Print PDF

CONTACT: Beth Weaver, 301-814-4088
beth_weaver@verizon.net or
Cathy Chase, 571-243-7282
cchase@saferoads.org

The AnnaLeah & Mary Karth Petition: STAND UP FOR TRUCK SAFETY

Each year 4,000 people are killed and another 100,000 people are injured in truck crashes. This is an unacceptably high number of losses and injuries, but most people don’t know about these numbers or the safety equipment that can protect people on the roads until they or someone they know has their lives forever altered in a crash involving a semi truck.

Karth Crash
Karth Crash Photo

We found out the hard way all about how important truck safety is when AnnaLeah (age 17) and Mary (age 13) were killed in an accident involving two semi trucks on May 4, 2013. In a meeting on September 12th, 2013, with the Truck Safety Coalition and Secretary of Transportation Foxx to discuss truck safety issues, Foxx stated, “I can promise you tangible progress in a short period of time.” As a member of the Cabinet, Foxx has executive authority to make these changes.

Sign the Petition

Click Here to Sign the AnnaLeah & Mary Karth Petition: STAND UP FOR TRUCK SAFETY.

At this time, we are initiating an online petition to request Foxx to fulfill his promise and to do everything he can to protect our families on the road and prevent more senseless tragedies by ensuring that the following truck safety improvements are made:

We are specifically asking Foxx to:

  1. Raise minimum levels of insurance required for truck drivers–which has not been done for over 30 years.
  2. Decrease driver fatigue and monitor their hours on the road with Electronic Logging Devices.
  3. Take needed steps to improve underride guards, which prevent vehicles from sliding under trucks–causing horrific injuries and tragic deaths.

We will print each signed petition and put them in separate envelopes. Then, on May 5, 2014, we will take these envelopes to Washington, D.C. and meet with DOT to remember AnnaLeah & Mary and to promote truck safety.

A Mom’s Story: Why we are asking for change

What You Can Do To Help

1. Sign the petition and share our story & petition with others, http://bit.ly/1gN3jQf :

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Google+
  • Blogs which you write
  • Any other conversations which you engage in…

2. Organize efforts to get signatures from members of a group to which you belong.

  • Advertise The AnnaLeah & Mary Petition: STAND UP FOR TRUCK SAFETY to your group.
  • Encourage group members (and everyone else you know) to sign the online petition by providing them with this link: http://bit.ly/1gN3jQf .
  • To print out a petition, go to http://annaleahmary.com/petition.pdf
  • Arrange a time to have the printed petitions available for group members to sign—making sure that they include their contact information as indicated on the form.

NOTE: Be sure that they only sign ONE petition: either the online OR printed version—NOT both. Mail the signed petitions to us—POSTMARKED NO LATER than April 21, 2014:
Jerry & Marianne Karth

2800 Ridgecrest Drive

Rocky Mount, NC 27803

3. Find out more about Our Story and about Truck Safety Issues:

  • We have set up a website in memory of AnnaLeah & Mary and for the promotion of truck safety advocacy: http://annaleahmary.com
  • After our accident, we were contacted by volunteers from the Truck Safety Coalition–other people who had lost loved ones in truck crashes–and provided with helpful information and support in the wake of our tragedy.The Truck Safety Coalition is a partnership between The Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation, and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T). The Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) is dedicated to reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes, providing compassionate support to truck crash survivors and families of truck crash victims, and educating the public, policy-makers and media about truck safety issues.For more information on truck safety issues and to sign up for newsletters and updates, please visit the rest of the Truck Safety Coalition’s website.

Please pray for this effort to be fruitful and make a difference for those who travel on the roads of our country.

Thank you,

Jerry & Marianne

New Truck Driver Hours of Service Rule Issued – Dangerous 11 Hour Limit Retained

New Truck Driver Hours of Service Rule Issued – Dangerous 11 Hour Limit Retained – click to view press release

Update: Commerce Committee passes Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act

Great Safety News!
Yesterday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act as part of the transportation authorization bill.   Thanks to your efforts, we have won a significant safety victory.
The bill includes:
  • A mandate to for electronic onboard recorders on all trucks and buses.
  • Requirement for the DOT to study and adjust the minimum insurance level for commercial carriers.
  • Increased financial penalties for carriers that create an imminent hazard to public health
  • Improved new carrier entry registration by requiring a safety proficiency examination and safety management plan as a precondition for operating authority.
  • Strengthens FMCSA’s tools to crack down on “reincarnated carriers”.
  • Support FMCSA’s implementation of its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and give it the authority to assess the health/safety fitness of drivers.
We thank Senators Lautenberg, Rockefeller, and Pryor for their leadership on truck and highway safety.  If you would also like to thank the Senators for their leadership and commitment to truck safety, please send us an email note at info@trucksafety.org and we will be glad to pass them on to their Transportation Legislative Assistants.
Of course our work is not done yet – the bill still needs to get passed by the full Senate and then the House.  Please continue to stay in touch with your Members of Congress during winter recess and express your support for these safety provisions in S.1950.

Kraft Pushes for 97,000-Pound Trucks Called Bridge Wreckers

Kraft Pushes for 97,000-Pound Trucks Called Bridge Wreckers

By Jeff Plungis – Dec 12, 2011

Emboldened by U.S. legislation allowing Maine and Vermont to keep 97,000-pound trucks rumbling on their interstate highways, Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) and Home Depot Inc. are pressing more states to follow.

Companies including Kraft, which says its trucks would drive 33 million fewer miles a year with higher weight limits nationwide, say they need to carry loads more efficiently to combat high diesel-fuel prices. Safety advocates say more heavy trucks would accelerate an increase in truck-related accident deaths, and question whether bridges can withstand the added weight.

“You’re starting to roll the dice,” said Andrew Herrmann, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Do you really want to keep these heavy loads, have a lower factor of safety and start wearing these bridges out faster?”

Trucks can weigh a maximum of 80,000 pounds on interstate highways under U.S. law. Maine and Vermont are exceptions under a pilot program that Congress last month extended for 20 years.

The proposed Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, sponsored by Representative Michael Michaud, a Maine Democrat, would allow every state to decide how extensively 97,000-pound trucks can travel based on economic need and the condition of its roads and bridges.

The bill may be rolled into a multiyear highway policy bill Congress will work on next year, said John Runyan, executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for Transportation Productivity. The group had 120 company members, including Kraft, MillerCoors LLC, International Paper Co., Hershey Co., Owens Corning Inc. (GLW) and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., as of Dec. 2. Seventy trade associations also backed the effort.

Home Depot

States are already allowed to set higher weight limits for secondary roads and 44 do, according to Runyan’s group. Twenty- eight states also allow a limited number of heavier trucks on interstates by permit, for certain vital commodities or for shipping containers loaded from ports, Runyan said.

Lindsay Chason, senior manager for environmental innovation for Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc. (HD), told Georgia’s transportation board Oct. 19 that 97,000-pound trucks were needed to keep up with a tripling of congestion since 1982 and diesel-price increases.

The average U.S. retail price for diesel fuel was $3.93 per gallon as of Dec. 5, according to the U.S. Energy Department, up 18 percent from the beginning of the year.

Wisconsin Loosening

Wisconsin last month passed a package of nine bills intended to loosen various truck size and weight limits. Governor Scott Walker,a Republican, said the new laws would create jobs.

Companies are trying to win higher weight limits rather than the ability to operate longer trucks, like triple trailers, Runyan said. Adding a sixth axle to 97,000-pound trucks on the interstates, as required by Michaud’s bill, would reduce road wear and improve braking, he said.

“When you’re filling a truck with a product and it’s 80 percent filled, you’re running around with a lot of trucks with extra space,” he said.

Bridge Stress

Companies can partially offset the heftier trucks’ added road wear by keeping the size of the trailer the same and spreading the weight over an additional axle, said Herrmann, head of the engineering group. The extra axle doesn’t offset the stress on interstate bridges, which were designed for 80,000- pound trucks, he said.

Herrmann’s group estimates that 25 percent of U.S. bridges need weight limits or restrict traffic because they’re not strong enough. The U.S. is spending about $10.5 billion a year to maintain bridges, and $17 billion is needed to keep up with the ongoing damage, he said.

“Those bridges already need work,” Herrmann said. “Now we’re saying let’s go back and reinforce all the bridges that need it, when we don’t have enough money to maintain the structures that we have.”

Kraft, the maker of Cheez Whiz and Oreo cookies, would make 66,000 fewer truck trips if the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act were passed, said Harry Haney, associate director of transportation planning with the Northfield, Illinois-based company. Heavier trucks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio would help the company most, he said.

Kraft trucks would drive 33 million fewer miles a year and put 2.1 billion fewer pounds on roads with higher U.S. weight limits, Haney said. The biggest savings would be in shipments of products like Miracle Whip salad dressing, Oscar Meyer meat and Capri Sun juices, he said.

“We need to find ways to use our existing infrastructure more efficiently,” Haney said. “Members of Congress increasingly agree.”

Logging Trucks

Congress last month extended a one-year pilot program to allow 100,000-pound trucks on interstates in Maine and Vermont for 20 years, with support from Weyerhaeuser Co. and other forest-products companies.

Trucks are the only transportation mode that logging companies and paper producers can use to carry felled trees, wood chips and biomass from leaves and branches from forests, said Neil Ward, communications director of the Forest Resources Association in Rockville, Maryland.

Minnesota, Ohio

Minnesota, like Maine, is a border state where industry wants heavier trucks from Canada allowed on the interstates, Ward said. Ohio’s legislature is debating higher weight limits to accommodate agricultural products, depending on what Congress does, he said.

“In the cases where a state already has a state limit similar to what we’re proposing for the interstate highway, then it’s a quick and turnkey operation to get an opt-in” to the proposed House bill, Ward said.

In Minnesota, where a bridge on Interstate 35 collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people, the state transportation department supports allowing either 97,000- or 99,000-pound trucks with six axles on interstate highways, according to a March statement. Interstate bridges are equal to or better than those on state highways where heavy trucks already travel by permit, the agency said.

Safety Concerns

Maine and Vermont officials downplayed concerns raised by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration about the ability of interstate bridges to stand up under 100,000-pound trucks, according to officials at The Truck Safety Coalition, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The three safety-advocacy groups obtained documents about the two states’ pilot program under the Freedom of Information Act.

“If one assumes that greater than a 10 percent ‘overstress’ is unacceptable, then these results show that every 100,000 lbs. truck is a problem,” a FHWA analysis concluded.

Justin Nisly, a spokesman for the highway administration, declined to comment, saying the agency’s analysis wasn’t final.

Extra fees proposed for overweight trucks won’t cover the costs of reinforcing or rebuilding bridges that weren’t designed for the higher weight, with car owners and taxpayers picking up the tab, said John Lannen, executive director of The Truck Safety Coalition, based in Arlington, Virginia.

‘Ripple Effect’

“The ripple effect will be catastrophic,” Lannen said of the pressure on other states to increase weight limits. “The entire country’s motoring public will be put in grave danger.”

Commercial truck-related fatalities, including people in cars struck by big rigs, rose 8.7 percent in 2010 to 3,675, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Dec. 8. The American Trucking Associations said the same day that 2010 was still among the safest years on record and the trucking fatality rate, adjusted for miles driven, has fallen over the past two decades.

In Pennsylvania, John Rafferty, the Republican chairman of the state’s Senate Transportation Committee, and John Wozniak, the panel’s senior Democrat, warned the state’s congressional delegation that Pennsylvania already needs $3.5 billion a year to upgrade and maintain roads and bridges. More than 5,000 bridges remain structurally deficient, they said in a Nov. 14 letter.

“We cannot afford larger trucks on our roads and bridges,” the senators said.

The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act is H.R. 763.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net