The US Congress is considering new legislation that would allow states to increase the Interstate truck weight allowance from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds, provided that trucks operating above 80,000 pounds add a sixth axle.
Current law limits the weight of five-axle trucks traveling on the interstate system to 80,000 pounds, and interestingly, these US weight limits are the lowest in the developed world.
The legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this month, and according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), it will allow states to authorize the operation of more efficient commercial trucks, resulting in safer highways, cleaner air and less costly freight transportation.
"ATA supports a number of reforms to federal truck size and weight regulations as part of our Sustainability Initiative," says ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. "More efficient trucks, like those allowed under this legislation, will significantly reduce the trucking industry's carbon output."
However, not everyone sees the proposed legislation as beneficial.
An article at eTrucker.com reports that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the bill because it feels that increasing the truck weight allowance would endanger road users and hasten infrastructure deterioration. In addition, other transportation safety groups say past size and weight increases have not yielded fewer trucks, trips or miles traveled.
In fact, there is research that suggests fewer, heavier trucks on the road can be detrimental to safety. After all, heavier trucks must surely equate to increased level of damage per individual accident, and a direct correlation between accident damage and higher gross vehicle weight in five axle trucks is cited in multiple locations in a report entitled "Developing Measures of Effectiveness for Truck Weight Enforcement Activities," by the Nat'l Transportation Research Board. This report also broadly covers the impact of overweight trucks on infrastructure and roughly concludes that the overall damage is significant, but may be resolved by the macro-economically positive benefit of cheaper transportation on cost of goods distribution.
It's worth noting, too, that while overall equal, more efficient (cheaper) transportation of goods also probably means lower fuel, excise, and sales taxes supporting greater damage to the interstate (and state/local) transportation infrastructure which is already in a declining state of repair.
More details of the proposed Senate Bill, the "Safe and Efficient Transportation ACT (SETA) of 2010," S. 3705, are available here.