Statement of Joan Claybrook, Lisa Shrum and Larry Liberatore in Response to Today’s Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Hearing on “Keeping Goods Moving: Continuing to Enhance Multimodal Freight Policy and Infrastructure” 

April 4, 2017 

Joan Claybrook, Chair, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH):

“Truck crash deaths are at their highest level since 2008. In 2015, 4,067 people were needlessly killed in truck crashes – the equivalent of a major airplane crash every other week of the year.  Congress would never tolerate over 4,000 deaths in airplane crashes or consider weakening safety rules.  So, too, should they not accept this outrageous death toll and consider advancing an industry wish list.  We urge Congress to get serious about addressing this major public health crisis and stop indulging special trucking interests pushing for bigger, heavier trucks. 

In the history of America, every time there has been an increase in truck size and weight, the result is more, not fewer, registered trucks and trailers. Any claimed reduction in the number of registered trucks and truck vehicle miles traveled (TVMT) would only be temporary. The recent U.S. DOT Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study found that any reductions in TVMT would be wiped out within one year. After just one year, even more trucks will be pounding our deteriorating roads and inflicting further damage to our bridges. 

Certain industry members have also claimed a theoretical benefit in shipping capacity which would lead to greater efficiency. But, for this theoretical benefit to be realized, every standard twin 28 trailer would need to be replaced with a double 33 – an implausible scenario. System inefficiencies such as empty (deadhead) trips or below-capacity trailers further decrease any claimed productivity gain. Additionally, many of the nation’s leading trucking companies including Swift, Knight Transportation, PITT OHIO and Heartland Express as well as the Truckload Carriers Association oppose double 33s.  Similarly, truck drivers, law enforcement, public health, consumer and safety organizations oppose this major national policy change.

Longer trucks also have serious safety implications and pose grave risks to families traveling around them. Double trailer trucks have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single trailer trucks. A double 33 will add a minimum of 10 feet to the length of current 28-foot doubles and could top 90 feet long – essentially amounting to the height of an eight-story building. Passing these super-sized trucks will take longer and be more perilous for passenger vehicles. Further, longer trailers will cross into adjacent lanes, interfere with traffic and swing into opposing lanes on curves and while making right-angle turns.

Truck crash deaths and injuries are up significantly, increasing 20 and 57 percents, respectively, from  2009 to 2015. The safety of the American public will only be further jeopardized by allowing this assault on safety to continue.”

Lisa Shrum, Truck Safety Coalition Victim Volunteer, Fayette, MO:

“My mother, Virginia, died on October 10, 2006, in a devastating crash that also killed her husband, Randy. They were driving home to Pleasant Hill, Missouri after dropping off a car in Fayette for my younger brother. They were traveling on Interstate 70 shortly after 11 p.m. Driving conditions were not ideal. But then, they rarely are when you’re on a heavily traveled highway with cars and big trucks moving at high speeds. They had just crested a hill. There was a crash ahead on the road and visibility was poor. In addition, a FedEx double trailer truck had swerved into the left hand shoulder to avoid the upcoming crash. 

Because of the sheer length of the FedEx truck’s two trailers, the back end of the second trailer extended into the passing lane of traffic. Mom’s vehicle hit the double trailer sticking out into the lane ahead of her, spun out, and was then struck by another tractor trailer which sliced her vehicle in half.

Both my mom and Randy were killed. There was a third fatality that day, a young father and husband, and ten people injured in this multi-vehicle crash. When I think about the crash and hear about lobbying efforts by FedEx and others to make trucks even longer and heavier, I cringe. I cringe to think about how much worse it would have been, how many more cars would have been hit, and how many more people would have been killed if longer, heavier trucks were involved. 

Is it really so important that FedEx be allowed to carry more packages when it means more oversized trucks on our streets and highways? Is it really so important for FedEx and other trucking companies to increase their profits? I urge Congress not to put profits of a few behemoth companies ahead of public safety of all motorists.” 

Larry Liberatore, Board Member, Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), Odenton, MD

I took the day off of work to attend today’s hearing in honor of my son, Nick.  Nick was killed on June 9, 1997, just south of the Delaware/Maryland state line on his way to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey with five or six carloads of friends. When the cars were separated while traveling north on Interstate 95, a few of them pulled over on the shoulder of the highway to wait for the others to catch up.  Nick was sitting in the back seat of a car when a tired trucker carrying a load of steel veered across three lanes, and ran over the car. The truck driver had not slowed as he approached the toll booth which was about 1,000 feet past the crash site. 

Hearing FedEx representatives talk about the need for even longer, heavier trucks is terrifying to me.  Whenever I drive down to Washington, D.C., I drive alongside trucks and I know that when it comes down to my car vs. a truck, should a crash occur, 97 percent of fatalities are the car occupants. And I am not alone in this sentiment. In poll after poll, the American public has firmly opposed increases to truck size.  Congress should be considering ways to make our roads safer, not more deadly.

The double 33s proposal is nothing more than a special interest giveaway for a few select special trucking and shipping interests. Families will wind up paying with their lives and their wallets.”