Voters of all backgrounds and all political persuasions oppose truck size and weight increases for safety reasons. There are precious few issues on which there is nearly unanimous agreement among Republicans, Democrats, young and old drivers, and high and low income voters. Truck safety is one of them. A Lou Harris poll conducted last year showed 88% of voters oppose allowing bigger and heavier trucks on the highways; 91% of voters rank the federal government's control over the safety of large trucks as "very important."
Truck safety is a life and death issue. Over one million Americans have been seriously injured in a truck-involved crash within the last ten years. In the same period, 50,000 people have needlessly died. This is the equivalent of wiping out a mid-size town in my state of Virginia, or any one of the states represented on this committee.
Truck-involved crashes have caused about 5,000 deaths and 100,000 injuries each year since 1984. This death toll is equivalent to a ValuJet crash each and every week. Of course, if the airline industry were involved in plane crashes every week, they would be grounded!
We know this Senate would never tolerate a major airline crash every week on the argument that it facilitates a more profitable aviation industry. Yet this is the argument used by the trucking industry against rules which would improve the safety of commercial trucking.
Even with tragedies occurring every day, American Trucking Associations is demanding a thaw in the federal freeze on truck sizes and weights. What if the airline industry demanded, in the aftermath of TWA 800 crash, a reduction in regulations on airline safety? We have a wish list for NEXTEA, which supports the provisions of H.R. 551 introduced recently. l) We urge this Congress to keep the freeze on Longer Combination Vehicles and single trailer truck dimensions. Multi-trailer trucks are inherently unstable, and therefore unsafe on highways. 2) We urge working rules for truck drivers that guarantee drivers get adequate daily rest. Fatigue is a leading cause in 31-41% of truck crashes. 3) We urge you to freeze truck size and weight. That includes preventing exemptions by state and local governments that would allow bigger and heavier trucks. Longer and heavier trucks will only lead to even more highway deaths each year. The cost in human lives for interstate heavy- haul trucking is many times that of the airline and rail industries put together.
We urge you to look to the provisions of H.R. 551, which places safety above trucking company profits, and introduce similar provisions in your version of NEXTEA.
Victims and safety advocates don't have the trucking lobbyists' money, but we do have a lot of heart and determination. We also have public opinion on our side. It is time to make existing trucks safer, not bigger and heavier.