Yikes! Congress poised to OK longer trucks

As 2015 comes to an end, members of Congress are rushing to pass legislation to keep the government running. Unfortunately, they’re also about to create new dangers on the highway for Kentucky motorists.

A provision tucked into a multi-billion dollar spending bill approved by the House would force Kentucky and other states to allow trucks with two 33-foot trailers on their highways. The current federal law permits double 28-foot trailers. On a positive side, the Senate has twice rejected these longer trucks.

Kentucky’s delegation will play a key role in deciding the outcome. I ask that our members put safety first.

The larger trucks that would be allowed would measure up to 91 feet in length, the equivalent of an eight-story building tilted on its side. That’s a 17-foot increase over the most common tractor-trailers on the road today, which are 53-foot single-trailer trucks.

As president of the Kentucky Ambulance Providers Association, I know all too well the risks big trucks pose to Kentucky motorists. They make passing, merging, and turning at intersections more difficult, creating devastating consequences. In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,964 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks. Regrettably, 78 of these fatalities were in Kentucky.

Emergency responders arrive immediately after these accidents and try to save lives – a challenge that will only become harder if Congress approves this legislation.

The longer trucks require 252 feet to stop, according to testing by the Department of Transportation. That’s two and a half times longer than a college basketball court – and 22 more feet than the current twin-trailer configuration on the road today requires to stop, according to the DOT.

These longer trucks would not be limited to the interstates. They will find their way into local communities to drop off and pick up freight.

If you think this legislation sounds like a bad idea, you’re not alone. First responders, local government officials and even truck drivers and trucking companies oppose this increase.

The U.S. government’s own safety experts have urged Congress not to allow bigger trucks on the interstates. In June, the DOT published a study which said “no changes in the relevant truck size and weight laws and regulations should be considered.” The reason: “profound” data limitations that make it impossible to predict the national impacts of such a change on America’s diverse network of roads and geographies.

So why is Congress considering this legislation?

We don’t know. The sponsors of the bigger-trucks proposal have refused to hold a public hearing on it.

Instead, they have quietly inserted it in a $55.23 billion transportation spending bill that is expected to be attached to broader omnibus spending legislation up for approval next week to keep the government running.

Lawmakers have little time to debate this proposal, let alone consider how it will affect their constituents.

Advocates for longer trucks – mainly a handful of big shipping companies – say they will reduce the number of trucks needed to carry freight, leading to less traffic congestion and fewer accidents. Historically bigger trucks have never meant fewer trucks.

But if that’s true, let’s hear it at a public hearing under oath. Members of Congress could then weigh these claims against the conclusions of the safety experts at the DOT who have actually studied the issue.

Commercial trucks play a vital role in Kentucky’s economy. But profits should never come at the expense of motorists’ safety. That’s why I hope you’ll join me in urging our members of Congress to put the brakes on the push for longer trucks. We can't afford to compromise the safety of Kentuckians.

Thomas Adams of Ashland is executive director of the Boyd County EMS and president of the Kentucky Ambulance Providers Association.