Heavier Trucks Hitting Roads

Big trucks are more than big business. They accounted for more than 11 percent of all highway fatalities last year. According to the University of Michigan's National Center for Truck and Bus Statistics, nearly 73 percent of fatal truck accidents involved vehicles in the heaviest Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) class. Despite the hazards some big trucks pose, you will likely be seeing more of them on the nations' highways.

In 2011, the U.S. Senate and House considered new bills concerning large trucks. The Safe Highway and Infrastructure Preservation Act (SHIP Act) submitted by House Representative Jim McGovern, would keep federal highway poundage limits at the current level, which is 40 tons (80,000 pounds) for federal highways. The competing legislation, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (SETA), would increase federal poundage limits from 40 tons to nearly 50 tons (97,000 pounds) and increase axle limits to six.

Commercial shippers believe the bigger trucks offer several benefits. Carriers would have more truck space which translates into lower fuel costs and other expenses. The change also would place American producers on a level playing field with those in the European Union, Canada and Mexico as the American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates that the nation's hauling needs will increase 30 percent by 2025.

At least 20 states, including Maine, Alabama and Vermont allow trucks heavier than 80,000 pounds to operate on federal highways within their borders. These states exercise exemptions, grants and special use permits that allow for this. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), some states allow trucks that exceed 50 tons to share the roadways with passenger cars.

A number of organizations, including AAA, argue that bigger trucks will create more dangers on our nation's roads. Some groups, such as the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS), report that larger trucks are more prone to rolling over in crashes, cause damage on roads and bridges and take longer to brake.

Commercial motor vehicles barely account for 4 percent of the registered vehicles on the highways, but they are involved in a disproportionately higher number of truck accidents. In 2010, 3,675 of the nation's 32,885 highway deaths were related to truck crashes. And while highway fatalities declined significantly last year, those linked to truck crashes increased.

Big trucks are a crucial part of America's economic infrastructure; however, bigger trucks present greater risks to public safety and people's lives.