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FHWA evaluates new law to increase truck weight limits

Written by Steve Gursten Posted May 22nd, 2013

Federal Highway Administration initiates study that will compare lighter trucks against heavier loaded trucks to determine how load weight affects crashes


We recently discussed proposed legislation that would increase the legal weight of transport trucks. The legislation, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), would allow states to raise the interstate weight limits of transport trucks to a maximum of 97,000 pounds.  Currently the maximum allowable weight is 80,000 pounds.

Well, earlier this spring the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) took the next step in evaluating that proposed changes.  The FHWA hired a Massachusetts engineering firm, CDM Smith and Associates, to help prepare a comprehensive report examining truck size and weight limits.

The FHWA study is scheduled to be completed by November, 2014.

The study will examine the safety and economic implications of changing the federal limits.

Specifically, the study will look at including permitting six-axle, 97,000-pound combinations as proposed under SETA.

The evaluation will juxtapose trucks operating at lighter size and weight limits to heavier trucks.  The focus will be on the crash rates and other safety risk factors.  There will also be consideration of the costs of effective enforcement, and the impact of the heavier trucks and equipment on infrastructure.

It’s no secret that there are widespread infrastructural deficiencies across the country. Crumbling infrastructure was identified as a serious safety concern on the highway in a National Transportation Safety Board report published earlier this year.

Finally, the FHWA report will also look into the implications for truck-rail competition.

The FHWA said the study will be peer-reviewed before it’s completed. The public will be given an opportunity to comment upon the report to express concern and provide feedback.

Trucking industry interests have been pressing for a provision that would give states the authority to permit increased weight limitations of trucks at their discretion.  However, the trucking lobby has been with met with strong opposition for safety groups and other concerned parties.

The opposition is for good reason.  Our truck accident lawyers are against increasing the weight limit of commercial vehicles.  Both myself and Steven Gursten, as past presidents of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group, and founders of the Truck Attorneys Roundtable, have spoken about the dangers associated with heavier trucks on our roads, and the clearly foreseeable increase in fatalities that we can predict as a result.

Dangerous truck drivers are cutting corners on safety and hurting or killing people.  Semi-trucks are already extremely dangerous. It does not make any sense to allow trucking companies to load their vehicles even heavier and make them more deadly in a truck accident.

After a protracted battle between the two opposing sides, the study arose as a compromise stemming from the MAP-21 laws passed by President Obama.

Hopefully this study will be conducted objectively and fairly.  Just as many other safety advocates, I suspect that the report will reveal what we are all afraid of: That making semi-trucks heavier will lead to more dangerous driving on our highways. Heavier trucks have a higher destructive capacity, and we can be statistically certain that heavier trucks will certainly cause greater injuries and kill more people.

One does not need a crystal ball.  It is, after all, simple physics.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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