“A Losing Battle” – Large Trucks Getting Larger on Kentucky Roads

February 28th, 2017 by Attorney Julie Butcher

The large trucks we share the road with are getting much bigger, one industry at a time. This is despite the evidence that larger trucks take a greater toll on infrastructure and potentially place drivers in greater danger.

Kentucky lawmakers have passed measures that allow certain businesses to put trucks exceeding 80,000 pounds on state roads. The most recent measure deals with the poultry industry, though several other businesses already enjoy similar exemptions, and it’s likely that more will be made in the coming weeks.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported last week on the new and upcoming measures, which offer exemptions to trucks hauling everything from chicken feed to metal commodities. Laws allowing for bigger trucks on roads have long been a goal of shippers. For example, lobbyists representing the trucking industry have attempted several times to convince lawmakers to raise the current limit on large truck weights. Those attempts – at least on the federal level – have failed after being introduced as amendments to other bills.

But lobbyists are finding success at the state level, notably right here in Kentucky. The justification for allowing super-sized trucks on our roads is that it helps businesses save money. By increasing the load of their trucks, Tyson would cut the number of trips its trucks make by 2,400.

Meanwhile, the increased weight has a disproportionately negative impact on our infrastructure. A 10 percent increase in the weight of a tractor trailer leads to 33 percent greater damage of structures like bridges. Taxes levied against companies who put these vehicles on our roads cover less than half of the damage they inflict.

These trucks not only place a burden on our infrastructure and our tax money, they also put drivers at risk. The larger a truck, the more difficult it is for a driver to slow down a big rig and the more difficult it is to maneuver. They are also more likely to cause traffic congestion, slowing down travel times and potentially causing an even greater risk for drivers.

The push by lobbyists and the ensuing success in Kentucky is disheartening for those whose top priority is the safety of drivers. Emergency Medical Services executive director Thomas Adams told the Herald-Leader that the fight against these measures was “a losing battle.”

If anyone would know about the effects of large trucks on road safety, it would be paramedics that tend to the injuries of truck wreck victims. Adams’ obvious frustration is one that we should all share. As he so aptly puts it, “You’re sacrificing public safety when you make these trucks more than 80,000 pounds… How does it help to add even more weight to their loads?”

It’s not just safety advocates and medical responders that are against the measures. The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, a group that represents the interests of professional drivers has held firm in their opposition to raising the weight limits.

OOIDA points out that in addition to the safety and infrastructure impacts, raising the limits would increase insurance costs for trucking companies. It would also increase the time drivers spend loading and unloading a shipment. Drivers already spend “between 30 to 40 hours per week waiting at docks for shippers and receivers to load or unload,” said OOIDA on its website.

The chances are good that we’ll see many more of these “exceptions” made on our roads, until the number of exceptions are so great that they become the rule. You will also see a continuation of the efforts by shippers’ lobbyists to influence federal lawmakers to allow larger trucks on interstates, which is still prohibited by federal law.