Just over 14 months ago, I wrote a column for this publication on behalf of the Kentucky Ambulance Providers Association in opposition to bigger tractor-trailers. I did not think I would need to write another so soon.
The Kentucky House on Monday approved by a 64-27 vote House Bill 184 that allows certain semi-trailers to increase their maximum weight from 80,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds — a 50 percent increase in truck weight. In other words, this proposal would allow trucks to haul their current maximum loads in addition to the equivalent of 10 passenger vehicles stacked on top.
This is after the full legislature approved and Gov. Matt Bevin signed HB 174, allowing certain trucks to operate up to 88,000 pounds — four tons over current law.
While the new law for 88,000 pounds is troubling, we do not have time to look back because an even greater threat is still under consideration in the Senate. These 120,000-pound trucks proposed by HB 184 are incredibly dangerous. As president of the Kentucky Ambulance Providers Association, I know all too well what it would mean if trucks were allowed to carry 20 additional tons.
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The laws of physics tell us that heavier weights at high speeds would lead to more severe crashes. And any increase in crash severity increases the likelihood of injuries becoming more serious, or resulting in fatalities.
Further, heavier trucks are more likely to roll over and are much harder to control during an emergency or bad weather, endangering motorists as well as first responders. This is a serious concern personally since one of my ambulances was hit by a tractor-trailer that could not stop in time at the scene of a crash. Even more troubling, I personally experienced the loss of one of my part-time paramedic who was hit by a large truck and lost her life while working a crash scene at her full-time EMS job.
Studies confirm the dangers of heavier trucks. The U.S. Department of Transportation delivered a study to Congress last year that recommended against any increases in truck size or weight. It found in limited state testing that heavier trucks have up to 400 percent higher crash rates than today’s trucks weighing 80,000 pounds. The study also found that trucks weighing over 80,000 pounds had higher overall out-of-service violation rates, as well as 18 percent higher brake violation rates. Finally, a 2016 study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that a truck with any out-of-service violation is 362 percent more likely to be involved in a crash.
I know trucking is important to our economy. I also know that truck drivers are hardworking and careful professionals, but there is no need to make their jobs any more challenging, especially if it puts them, other motorists or first responders at risk.
If greater dangers of heavier trucks weren’t enough, consider the damage they cause to roads and bridges. There are nearly 8,800 bridges in Kentucky that are in fair/poor condition, according to the Federal Highway Administration — or nearly 62 percent of all bridges statewide. We already face an infrastructure crisis. Adding heavier trucks to this equation is a recipe for disaster — a disaster to which one of my colleagues may need to respond.
Congress rejected heavier trucks in late 2015, which means that any heavier trucks the Kentucky legislature approves would be forced to operate off the interstates and exclusively operate on state and local roads, traveling through local towns and communities across the commonwealth. It is these roads that have been proven to be the most dangerous; in fact, a 2015 TRIP study found that rural roads have a traffic fatality rate that is three times higher than all other roads. It also means the costs of damaged roads due to heavier-truck traffic will fall on local governments and taxpayers.
Now is the time to let our lawmakers know we oppose heavier trucks on our highways — we elected them to represent our priorities, after all.
Call 1-800-372-7181 for the legislative message line or email at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/whoswho/email.htm.
Thomas Adams is director of Boyd County E.M.S. in Ashland and president of the Kentucky Ambulance Providers Association.