Trucking Accidents: The Issue of Increasing Truck Weight Limits

              In early November, the House of Representatives rejected the Safe, Flexible and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act (H.R. 3488), which proposed to raise the federal vehicle weight limit from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds with the addition of a sixth axle. [1]  The issue of increasing truck weight limits has come up repeatedly over the past few years, so it is likely to arise again in future legislative sessions.  The push for heavier trucks comes in the midst of a trend of increasing large truck-involved crash fatalities over the past several years.  Since 2009, crash fatalities involving large trucks have increased 17%, while the overall number of motor vehicle crash fatalities has decreased by 3% over the same period.  [2]  In May 2013, a public opinion poll found that 68% of Americans opposed heavier trucks, and 88% balked at the prospect of paying higher taxes for the damage those heavier trucks caused to roads.  [2]  That sentiment seems only to be growing stronger among the American public, since a similar poll in January 2015 found that 76% of those polled opposed longer, heavier trucks.  [2shutterstock_31315468-1]  

            Proponents of this law claim that the current weight limit, which has been in place for thirty years, causes shippers to use more truckloads, miles and fuel than necessary.  [3] Additionally, they claim, higher weight limits would result in safer roadways, since it would result in fewer trucks necessary to haul the same amount of freight.  To support this argument, those in favor of H.R. 3488 point out that in the United Kingdom, fatal truck-related accidents have declined 35% since a similar law was passed in 2001.

            Opponents claim that the bill actually represents the trucking industry’s efforts to increase profits at the expense of safety and infrastructure.  Safety advocates argue increasing the weight of a heavy truck by only 10 percent increases bridge damage by 33 percent, and that adding a sixth axle will not mitigate that effect.  [4]  They also dispute the claims that increasing weight limits will improve safety, citing a DOT study finding that six-axle trucks have higher crash rates than trucks with five axles, and that 91,000 pound trucks had a 47 percent higher crash rate than 80,000 pound trucks in Washington State (the only state with available data on this configuration).  Further, the prediction that higher weight limits will result in fewer trucks on the road has not proven accurate in the past.  In fact, truck registrations have increased 91% since the last time the federal government increased the vehicle weight limit in 1982.  [4]

            Further, commenting on a similar bill in 2013, Road Safe America argued that the comparison to the United Kingdom was faulty because European trucks use mandated safety technology that many American trucks still do not use.  [5]  For example, European trucks are required to use speed governors set at 56 MPH, allowing trucks with heavy loads to stop more quickly.  Additionally, heavier trucks in Europe have electronic logging systems, and truck drivers cannot be paid by the mile, as they frequently are here.  According to Road Safe America, it is these safety mandates, not the institution of higher weight limits, that have resulted in lower trucking fatalities in Europe.  American trucking safety advocates continue to push for similar safety mandates in the U.S. If you have been involved in a truck accident, speak to one of our Atlanta Truck Accident Lawyers today.