Letters: Truck Size & Weight, HOS Not Safe, Game Plan

These Letters to the Editor appear in the Feb. 1 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Truck Size, Weight

In questions of safety, heavier trucks are not the answer.

A December article on the American Trucking Associations Web site supporting heavier trucks on interstate highways argues for productivity at what Road Safe America believes would be the sacrifice of safety. (“Increasing Truck Size, Weight Benefits U.S. Productivity,” Dec. 16.)

Congress is allowing a test of these new weight and axle limits in Vermont and Maine, following a closed-door, hastily considered addition to the federal transportation appropriations bill. Several of the arguments used to support this position are not thoroughly explained.

Pointing out that the European Union allows 100,000-pound trucks on their roads leaves out the fact that those same trucks have speed governors set at 56 mph. Additional safety equipment in Europe, such as side and rear crash barriers and electronic onboard recorders, make a heavy truck safer while still being productive.

Road Safe America thinks it is ill-advised to support bigger trucks before we require improved safety technology. Let’s not forget that almost every heavy commercial vehicle on America’s highways already has a factory-installed speed governor built in. ATA supports the use of these governors at 65 mph, and many of its members proactively use them on their fleets now. Why not make their use mandatory before deciding heavier and longer trucks are a worthy experiment?

Current weight limits on America’s interstate highway system are 80,000 pounds with five axles. Doesn’t logic tell us that adding 20% more braking power (a sixth axle) while adding 25% more weight in Maine (100,000 pounds total) and 50% more weight in Vermont (120,000 pounds total) will not make the trucks stop any quicker?

Although the states’ aim of getting the ultra-heavy trucks off the secondary roads and onto the allegedly safer interstate highways is commendable, the fact that these heavy loads are legal on any roads is a mistake. And allowing them on the interstate, where they can travel faster, is a bigger mistake.

Road Safe America is neither anti-trucking nor anti-trucker. To the contrary, we acknowledge that operators of heavy commercial vehicles work in one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, generally deserve more pay than they are receiving now and are entitled to more adequate rest periods and the safest equipment available. Road Safe America is pro-safety for everyone on America’s highways.

Productivity improvements are vital to America’s future in every industry, certainly including trucking. Unlike many other industries, however, the machinery that is American trucking is side-by-side with our families in their passenger cars on American roads every day.

Let’s please not allow an opportunity for a potential increase in productivity to cost precious lives. The American trucking industry can learn a lot from other developed countries regarding ways to make the big rigs safer. The technology is available and in some cases at no cost. Productivity, yes, but safety first.

Tom Hodgson
Executive Director
Road Safe America

HOS Not Safe

I’ve been a professional driver for more than 34 years and have accumulated more than 3.5 million safe miles. I’ve won many safety awards, including a 2008 Truck Driving Championship in North Carolina. I’m a former North Carolina Road Team captain and an American Trucking Associations America’s Road Team captain for 2007-09.

In my opinion, the current hours-of-service rules were created for the less-than-truckload companies. They have worked hard for 15 years to stop LTL runs requiring drivers to spend the night in other states for a return load of freight. Now that the HOS are in their favor, they are using and abusing them.

I feel there should be no more than 10 hours driving, four hours on duty not driving and 10 hours off, with a 48-hour restart. This schedule truly would give drivers a good rest and make them safer and more alert. The long, long drives every night — now the longest since trucking began — would have to be shortened.

This is a great industry and can run safely if everyone does what they are supposed to do and if the trucking companies would be satisfied with just a good net profit.

Larry Shelton
Independent Professional Driver
King, N.C.

A Game Plan

With the excitement of NFL playoff football all around us and the Super Bowl in sight, many armchair quarterbacks are devising fantasy game plans for their favorite team. But rather than fantasize about football, let’s dream about a game plan, quarter by quarter, for America, a game plan that would attack and score in the “red zone” — job creation, housing, energy, terrorism, education and health care.

All great football teams have excellent scouts and extensive scouting reports that identify the key issues required to defeat the opposition.

America is blessed with visionary “scouts,” Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Inspector General Calvin Scovel III and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. We have information-packed “scouting reports” from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and Ernst & Young.

These knowledgeable men and comprehensive reports focus on the need to rebuild America’s infrastructure and energy policy, emphasizing the scope of the project — $750 billion over five years — and, most important, the millions of direct and indirect jobs that would be created.

Swift and proper execution of this strategy in the “first quarter” would set up and lay the foundation for a winning game strategy. Job creation, the key that unlocks the plan, would lift incomes, which in turn would be used to lift consumption, pay existing mortgages and purchase new homes.

This strategy would reduce and eventually eliminate banks’ bad loans and would allow them to repair their balance sheets and begin lending to small businesses, which would create more jobs.

However, the infrastructure rebuilding must be funded without adding more national debt. And here, in the “second quarter,” we throw the “long bomb” touchdown: a 75-cent fuel tax pegged to the price of oil.

This is the key play because it would establish a permanent fixed floor for the price of oil. This floor would give investors in alternative energy as well as motor vehicles a fixed bottom oil price against which to project their profitability. In the “third quarter,” this profit would stimulate investment in alternative fuels and promote competition for fuel-efficient motor vehicles.

With increased investment in alternative energy and fuel-efficient vehicles, demand for oil would peak and then decline, producing two desirable outcomes: The price of oil would drop significantly, reducing funds for terrorist activities, and the need for cap-and-trade taxes would be pointless.

Investment in infrastructure and energy to create jobs, funded by a fuel tax, would energize the economy, rebuilding America’s balance sheet so that, in the “fourth quarter,” it could reinvest the increased tax revenues generated by the stimulated activity into education and health care.

To transform this “game plan” from fantasy to reality, we must demand that Congress lead our country boldly and courageously, making America the 21st century “Super Bowl” champion.

John Simourian
Lily Dedicated Logistics Systems
Needham, Mass.