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By Tanya Snyder – Politico Pro

03/14/2017 05:16 PM EDT

Bipartisan concern emerged today at a Senate hearing about a proposal to allow trucks carrying twin 33-foot trailers on highways.

“A federal mandate would preempt laws of states that do not want them on road, overriding state legislative decisions to protect public safety,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), whose amendment blocked a proposal in 2015 to allow the double trailers nationwide.

At today’s Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation hearing, Wicker cited statistics showing that twin-trailer trucks have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single trailer trucks and that 22 percent more people died in large-truck-related crashes in 2015 than in 2009.

Currently, states can choose whether or not to allow the double trailers.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), highlighted the damage the double trailers cause not just to safety but to infrastructure — a $1.1 billion toll, he said, citing DOT statistics.

The truckload industry — the 78 percent of trucks on roads which deliver a truckload of goods to a single customer — strongly opposes allowing twin trailers, while UPS, FedEx and Amazon are pushing to allow them.

Jerry Moyes, the founder of Swift Transportation, said that he found that even twin 28-foot trailers had a significant negative impact on safety — but that if twin 33s are allowed nationwide, competitive pressures would force about half of truckload carriers to switch — an expensive transition for the industry.

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Washington state cannot afford bigger trucks on our stressed highways

Tommie Pillow
As Washington State Patrol troopers, my colleagues and I see first-hand the dangers and damage large trucks can cause on our state’ s roads.

Yet powerful corporations and large trucking companies are lobbying Congress to let tractor-trailer trucks grow even bigger — by allowing existing trucks to be eight tons heavier and by allowing double and triple-trailer trucks across the country.

This is a bad policy that would only benefit a few big companies, while coming with a heavy price tag that includes new highway dangers to average motorists and further damage to our roads and bridges.

In our state in 2005, there were 68 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks. Nationally, large trucks are involved in fatal accidents 40 percent more than the rate for passenger cars.

Here’ s the reality: Trucks are already dangerous. These new Washington, D.C., proposals would make them even more so.

The reasons are easy to understand: Bigger trucks mean more weight and energy in crashes; crashes become severe accidents; and severe accidents can become fatalities. Further, bigger trucks are more likely to roll over, because they will have a higher center of gravity, greatly increasing the risk of roll-overs on our roads.

Then there are issues with safety maintenance.

Larger trucks will take longer to stop. Increasing truck weight will lead to increased brake maintenance problems. In short, a bigger truck is more likely to wear out its important safety equipment sooner, including the brakes, suspension and tires. The equation is simple: Greater equipment wear means a greater risk of accidents.

The safety of motorists on Washington’ s roads and highways is obviously my primary concern and, respectfully, should be top of mind for our congressional representatives as they consider these bigger truck proposals.

‘ Structurally deficient’

Of course, apart from the safety considerations, we need to keep in mind the potential damage to the infrastructure we all share. Larger trucks will place a greater strain upon our already damaged bridges.

About 400 of our state’ s bridges are classified as “ structurally deficient” — meaning they need to be replaced or receive significant repairs. Almost three million vehicles travel over those bridges on a daily basis.

For an example of how a weakened part of our transportation infrastructure can have great impact, the Seattle — or Alaskan Way — viaduct is a prominent piece of our eroded transportation infrastructure that has to be inspected every three months and will cost us more than $3 billion to replace by the time the project is completed in 2016.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, heavy trucks today only pay for 80 percent of the damage they cause. Allowing them to get heavier and longer means they would only pay half of their costs.

I’ ve served this community for more than 26 years. I know Washington roads. And I know that bigger trucks are a dangerous and expensive proposition.

We are fortunate to have Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, serving as members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

That committee will have a lot to say about whether bigger trucks will be allowed on our roads. I urge Congress to weigh this issue carefully before making a decision that could impact everyone on the road.

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Tommie Pillow is president of the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association. He can be reached at 360-704-7530 or via email at tompillow@wspta.org.

Published May 05, 2011