Testimony of Congressman James P. McGovern
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
Sub-Committee on Highways and Transit
July 9, 2002
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Sub-Committee today. I commend you and the members for holding this TEA-21 reauthorization hearing on truck safety. It is, as we all know, a critically important issue.
Mr. Chairman, I appear before the sub-committee this afternoon because I believe strongly that any serious and substantive discussion regarding truck safety begins and ends with the subject of truck size and weight. That is because truck safety is largely a function of truck size and weight. We know this, not only from recent studies and reports, but from our shared common experience as well.
Too many of us, too often, have been unsettled while driving alongside or behind huge triple trailer trucks and other longer combination vehicles known as LCVs. These trucks can be more than 100 feet in length and can sway three to four feet into adjacent lanes of traffic, even on a windless day.
In some instances, a truck veering sharply can cause a “crack the whip” effect, where the wheels on one side of the rear trailer are actually lifted off the ground. These life-threatening occurrences are altogether too frequent to be dismissed as dramatized anecdotal evidence. In fact, the research suggests the danger posed by such trucks is very real.
The US Department of Transportation’s 2000 Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study confirmed that multi-trailer trucks are especially dangerous. According to the DOT study, if the current restrictions on LCVs were removed, they would likely have a fatal crash rate of at least 11% higher than single trailer trucks.
An earlier report prepared for the Association of American Railroads suggested that LCVs are actually 66% more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. Similar studies have found that heavier trucks take more time and distance to stop and merge into traffic, thereby increasing the likelihood of crashes. Not surprisingly, these same studies have found that increasing truck weight increases the risk of rollover crashes and enhances the risk that collisions between trucks and cars will be fatal for the occupants of the car.
Now, I recognize and appreciate that the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) recent report on truck size and weight finds much of the research I have just cited as inconclusive. And while I congratulate the TRB for their contribution to this policy discussion, I must tell you that I am more than a little troubled by their recommendation that we should instead experiment with bigger trucks on America’s roads and bridges. I can assure you my constituents do not care to be guinea pigs in that experiment.
Mr. Chairman, just as our common experience informs our opinion on this issue, so must common sense dictate the solution. I am pleased to be joined by nearly 75 of my colleagues in bi-partisan support of HR 3132, the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act. This IS common sense legislation that will maintain the reasonable limits that currently exist on truck size and weight on our Interstate System and extend those same limits to the National Highway System. It does not roll back truck size and weight, but rather closes loopholes in the current law that have resulted in a proliferation of overweight trucks.
Ultimately, this legislation will both save lives AND protect the nation’s multi-billion dollar investment in our highway infrastructure.
Mr. Chairman, the fiscal considerations attendant to this issue must also not be minimized. According to the Federal Highway Administration’s 1999 Status Report on the Nation's Surface Transportation System, it will take $1.13 trillion over the next 20 years simply to maintain our roads and bridges. But, as we are all keenly aware, there is a backlog on road and bridge maintenance. Nearly 30% of our nation's bridges - and 50% of the bridges in my home state of Massachusetts - are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Now, we also know that as truck weight increases, the amount of pavement damage increases exponentially. In fact, according to the DOT's 2000 Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study I referenced earlier, bigger trucks would add more than $300 billion in costs to our transportation spending.
Mr. Chairman, as Congress prepares to consider the reauthorization of its major transportation spending bill, I am hopeful that the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act will be adopted in some form or fashion.
The legislation makes sense, the timing is right and above all else, the American public must be protected from the danger of still bigger trucks.
Thank you very much.