Bigger Is Not Always Better

Friday, December 20, 2019

Bigger is not always better, especially when one considers the allowable size of tractor trailer rigs on our nation’s highways.  There is a current push by the transportation industry to increase the length and weights of 18-wheel trucks on America’s highways.  This is both ill-conceived and irresponsible considering our aging highway and bridge infrastructure, the personal safety of everyone using our highways, and the ever-increasing highway congestion we all endure.

Some companies in the transportation industry are lobbying Congress to increase the gross weight of tractor-trailer rigs by 14 percent from the current 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. In addition, the industry wants to increase the allowable length of double tractor-trailer rigs to 91 feet, an increase of 10 feet. 

These requests have been made of our federal legislators before by the transportation industry.  In 2016 the U.S. Department of Transportation delivered a three-year Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study Report requested by Congress.  This study concluded heavier trucks will create “…serious safety problems…” as it relates to the condition of our nation’s bridges, and in addition the report noted that the heavier tractor-trailer rigs will impose billions of dollars of additional wear and tear on our highways.  

I am quite confident a similar study conducted today would have similar conclusions knowing highway congestion has grown over the past three years and our bridges and highways haven’t gotten any younger.  According to the Federal Highway Administration there are 20,177 bridges in Tennessee and 10,955 (or 54 percent) are in fair-to-poor condition.  Need I ask the question whether-or-not heavier tractor-trailer rigs will further negatively impact these aging structures and unnecessarily risk the lives of all of us using them daily?

Six years of commuting to work on I-75 between Chattanooga and Cartersville, Ga., has given me some perspective on big rigs. I have seen a noticeable increase in accidents involving tractor-trailer rigs over the past two years, many of which are single vehicle accidents.  I can’t explain the increased number of accidents, but I am certain larger rigs will result in many more severe accidents.  During 2018 in Tennessee alone, there were 3,973 large-truck accidents resulting in 118 fatalities.  In the first half of 2019, reported highway accident numbers indicate Tennessee is on track to repeat similar numbers of large truck accidents with an even greater number of fatalities.  

How can anyone make a reasonable conclusion that increasing the size, weight, and length of tractor-trailer rigs makes sense?  

I strongly implore leaders in the House and Senate to vote “NO” to passing federal legislation increasing the allowable size and weight of tractor-trailer rigs on our highways.  We do not need the federal government telling us what is best for Tennessee.  This seems to be a reasonable request considering the road conditions and usage varies dramatically across our great United States.

Commissioner Tim Boyd
Hamilton County



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