Safety Advocates and Environmentalists at Odds Over Trailer Length

environmentalists

There’s a heated debate going on in Congress over making double tractor trailers longer by 10 feet, and it’s pitted safety-focused groups against environmentalists. By increasing the maximum length of the trailers in a double tractor trailer rig from 28 feet to 33 feet, you add ten more feet of cargo space to the total rig.

That means six trucks can carry the cargo that it used to take seven to move, increasing the overall efficiency of trucking cargo. However, it also means that the resulting trucks would be over 80 feet long – and some safety experts believe longer means more dangerous. Before you decide where you stand on the topic, let’s take a look at both sides of the issue.

Safety First

Joan Claybrook, the former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and president emeritus of Public Citizen, sums up her disagreement with the larger trucks pretty succinctly in an editorial for USA Today. To her trucks are already too dangerous, and in her opinion it’s a result of loose regulations.

Overworked, under-rested drivers are already a hazard according to NHTSA statistics, and bigger trucks will be even more dangerous. She describes the new 84 foot combinations as “trains on our highways” and urges readers to stand with her against their rollout.

There are two sides to the safety issue, and Mitch Mac Donald brought the other one into the light nicely in an article for DC Velocity magazine this past July. Mac Donald focuses on a different set of facts and points to the downward trend in highway fatalities over the last decade.

He urges other safety advocates not to ignore the improved safety that trucking industry representatives put forward as a result of change – primarily that longer wheelbases will make trucks more stable and easier to control, that an increase in length is not an increase in the weight permitted, and that fewer truck trips means fewer chances something could go wrong.

Environmental Impact

To environmental experts, making trucks longer is a way to keep our freight capacity as high as ever but eliminate 6.6 million truck trips per year. If you want to imagine how much of a positive environmental impact that would have, consider these numbers: That would be roughly equal to a 1.3 billion-mile reduction in truck traffic, which would save 204 million gallons of fuel each year, and potentially reduce carbon emissions by 4.4 billion pounds per year.

Environmentalists view these reductions as a major win in the battle against climate change, a step in the right direction, and the rare common ground trucking companies and they can agree on.

According to the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver, America continues to suffer from “traffic congestion, increasing fuel consumption and its environmental pollution.” Environmental groups point towards this new rule about length as necessary to fight these factors and work towards making our freight transportation system more sustainable.

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