U.S. research calls for longer, heavier rigs

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Congress is hearing the government should consider allowing heavier trucks and longer combination vehicles on Interstate highways.

Requested by Congress as part of 1998 highway funding legislation, the report was compiled by the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board. Wrangling such as this are to be expected, according to industry observers, especially considering next year’s reauthorization debate.

According to the report, bigger vehicles would mean freight can be moved at lower costs. It even suggests federal laws may be encouraging dangerous practices in use today. Given federal size limits, larger trucks sometimes bypass interstate highways, which the report says are the safest and most efficient roads. The result is they use secondary roads where accidents are more likely to happen and maintenance costs are higher.

The report goes on to push for State authority to issue permits for the operation of six-axle tractor-trailers weighing up to 90,000lb — this is an increase over the current federal limit of 80,000lb and the standard five axles.

Compared to the five-axle truck, the six-axle truck reduces shipping costs moderately, and its lower weight-per-axle ratio cuts down on pavement wear.

The report also recommended double trailers as long as 33 feet each should be permitted, making the trailers five feet longer than the 28-foot double trailers that are most common today.

“We discovered a lack of information about the costs and benefits of larger trucks and the impact of regulations,” said the committee chairman. “To determine and enact limits that are based on facts, this nation needs a program that observes and evaluates the consequences of truck traffic.”

Darrin Roth, director of highway operations for the American Trucking Associations, tells U.S. wire services, “there really is no correlation between increased weight and reduced safety. Given the record and given the research, the opposite is true. You can increase weight and have a safety benefit.”

The committee authoring the report says Congress should charter a new federal organization to oversee implementation of federal regulations and evaluate its results, carry out pilot studies and research to determine the impact of trucks on highways, and recommend new regulations based on the findings.

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