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Should The Federal Truck Weight Limit Be Raised?

A new round of lobbying has begun to increase the weight limit imposed on commercial trucks by the federal government. The current limit sits at 80,000 pounds, but should it be raised?

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) has introduced the Safe, Flexible and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act, which would allow individual states to increase the federal vehicle limit to 91,000 pounds, should they so choose. Would the passage and Presidential signature of this bill mean fewer trucks would be moving the same amount of cargo, and thus be safer?

Who Supports It?

Introduction of the bill was quickly applauded by at least six major associations that represent the interests of shippers. Initially, trucking-specific groups were silent on its passage.

Now the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) has thrown their lobbying weight behind the bill, as well. The NPTC is a member of the Coalition for Transportation, an association that represents some 600 private fleets.

The NPTC contends that the SAFE Act will provide fleets with the flexibility they need to safely address highway capacity issues. Letting carriers run heavier, six-axle trucks would create more options for fleet managers.

Ribble has said that he intends to introduce the SAFE Act as an amendment to the long-term highway bill. This means that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee can begin marking up the bill and allow discussions on associates amendments and riders.

In his defense of the bill, Ribble stated that there is a “fairly broad coalition of members who support it from both parties.” He went on to state that he expects the act to be fleshed out once the highway bill enters the conference process.

Who’s Against It?

So is anyone against the bill. As it turns out, the railroad lobby has come out against the proposal. Railroad interests fear a hit to their business model if more freight travels over interstate highways.

Railroad interests have also been joined by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), who sent a letter to Ribble on September 16, arguing strongly against the legislation. In the letter the TCA states that it opposed the measure because “it would only benefit a minority of the industry.”

The Trucking Alliance, which is a coalition of trucking companies that lobby for safety improvements, also decries the bill. As they put it, the bill “would drive up operating costs, drive down truck driver wages, and curtail investments in safety technologies.” It’s notable that the American Trucking Association has had no comment on the matter.

What Will It Do?

As Ribble puts it, the bill would allow the freight shipping industry to be more efficient. He argues that a heavier truck pulls more freight, in turn keeping more trucks off the road. This would result in less wear and tear on pavement and create new opportunities to improve safety on bridges and roads.

It is important to note that this bill will not actually mandate anything. All it does is allow state governments to permit truck combinations up to 91,000 pounds used on interstate highways within their states. State agencies would still be allowed to limit or even prohibit the use of vehicles of this size and weight.

The bill would essentially allow vehicles with a sixth axle to up their freight weight limit. But would adding up to 11,000 pounds to the gross cargo weight limit be safe? According to Ribble, the bill was written using data from the Department of Transportation (DOT) safety and road wear data. He said they want to ensure truck stopping times are as good or better than current stopping times.

But could this change create unintended consequences in the area of fleet equipment and safety management? Only time will tell.

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