Canada’s minimum wheelbases need to be rethought

by Dave Holleman

In the heavily regulated world of trucking in which we live, nothing is more bewildering than the regulations that surround the weights and dimensions of commercial vehicles.

If there is any individual in the trucking industry that isn’t completely convinced that the “powers that be” are out to lunch, I suggest they take a quick look at the array of the regulations that are out there.

In North America, 63 different jurisdictions have the ability to determine any regulations pertaining to the weights and dimensions of commercial vehicles. Even when some standards exist, we’re still left with many variations that determine the size and weight of the equipment we drive.

There are, however, a few particular issues that I believe need to be addressed.

First, Canadian provinces need to standardize the minimum weight allowed on a set of axles. The most common truck-trailer configurations in Canada involve tandem-axle tractors pulling a tandem- or tridem-axle trailer.

However, the weight you can carry on these trucks varies from province to province. If the U.S. can come up with a minimum standard for all 48 states, why can’t Canadian officials come up with a standard for 12 jurisdictions?

A suggestion: Make the standard weight limit 18,000 kg for a tandem and 24,000 kg for a tridem, regardless of axle spacing.

Secondly, I feel as many of my comrades do that the restrictive 244-inch wheelbase for tractors (mostly in Western Canada) is much too short. Who the heck thought up the abstract number of 244? What is the purpose of it? With all the recent hype about fatigue, nobody has ever bothered to consider the type of vehicle in which drivers are bouncing down the road. The current wheelbase limit in Canada is far too short because it limits the options a person has when spec’ing a truck. In fact, there are at least two truck manufacturers that do not offer their long-nose trucks with their biggest bunks on a 244-inch wheelbase because there wouldn’t be any room for a fifth wheel.

Both the U.S. and Canada want to change hours of service rules to increase the amount of time a driver spends in the bunk. Canada should, at the very least, allow us to spec’ a decent bunk that’s worth living in.

Also, if this country has a free trade agreement with the U.S., then why don’t we allow all U.S.-spec’d trucks into this country?

A suggestion: tractor wheelbases of up to 300 inches should be allowed, with temporary permits made available for any truck that is longer than that, provided they still fall within the overall length laws.

Another restrictive practice that Western Canada partakes in is not allowing the 10-foot, two-inch spread on trailers that is common south of the border. The widespread tandem is somewhat of a nuance of the U.S. bridge law/formula, but the basic logic behind it is that weight spread over a greater distance is considerably better for roads and bridges than weight concentrated at one point. Without getting into complicated bridge formulas, engineers generally agree that this is the case.

Not only does the widespread tandem increase the distance over which the weight distributed, it also increase the weight a configuration can carry. A closed tandem can carry a maximum of 34,000 lb., while a widespread tandem can carry a maximum of 20,000 lb. per axle.

I’m told the widespread tandem would offer a better ride over the terrible roads in this country, but let’s not forget that distributed weight is also better for the roads that we do have.

In essence, this widespread axle spacing is already allowed in Western Canada as a tridem. As far as I am concerned, it should also be allowed as a tandem.

One thing that is also common on widespread tandems is lift axles, which brings me to my last point. Laws pertaining to lift axles are some of the most abstract and fragmented regulations in the trucking industry today. Provinces such as Quebec are moving to eliminate them altogether.

Lift axles should be allowed on any configuration of truck or trailer, regardless of number of axles/spacing or what-have-you. Lift axles would personally save me considerable tire wear, maintenance, and extra fuel that’s consumed dragging an extra axle down the street when it is not necessary.

Just imagine the costs that would be saved across the industry if lift axles were permitted from coast to coast. n

– Dave Holleman is an over-the-road owner/operator and monthly contributor to Truck News.

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