Recently, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., introduced the committee’s highway bill. The proposed legislation contains provisions that would allow states to increase truck weight limits from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds and allow 33 foot double trailers as opposed to the current limit of 28 feet. The trucking and shipping industries have vigorously endorsed these provisions, which they claim will increase capacity and decrease the costs of shipping (note the omission of any mention or concern for safety – “profit over people”). Not surprisingly, the trucking industry is one of the Top 5 financial contributors to Rep. Mica’s Campaign Committee and Leadership PAC funds.
Thankfully, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has listened to his constituents, embraced their opposition to these provisions, and advocated for safer roadways on their behalf. In a letter to Rep. Mica and ranking minority member of the committee, Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Senator Lautenberg addressed the safety concerns associated with the proposed provisions and wrote:
Larger and heavier trucks mean bigger safety risks for highway drivers. Even though overall traffic fatalities declined in 2010, the number of people killed in crashes involving large trucks increased nearly nine percent over the number of fatalities in 2009. While one in 25 registered vehicles on the highway is a large truck, a large truck is involved in about one in every nine fatal crashes, and a fatal truck crash results in the death of the occupants of the other vehicle in approximately 75 percent of cases. The fatal crash rate for large trucks is 2.4 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled—more than 50 percent greater than the rate for all vehicles on the roads.
Senator Lautenberg’s letter cites two, independent polls taken in 2011 that reveal 72% of Americans oppose larger and heavier trucks on our highways. As the debate between safety advocates, such as Senator Lautenberg, and the trucking and shipping industries continues, the ultimate question remains: Will Congress act in accordance with the wishes of an overwhelming majority of American voters or with the wishes of a minority of foreign and domestic corporations that finance their campaigns?