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Focus: Transportation Management

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From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

- June 8, 2015 -


Supply Chain News: US DOT Report Says Not Enough Data to Change Law on Longer, Heavier Trucks


DOT Says Lack of Data Means Policies Shouldn't Be Changed; ATA Charges Report Influenced by Politics

SCDigest Editorial Staff


There was disappointment and anger in many trucking circles, as Friday the US Dept. of Transportation (DOT) released a preliminary report stemming from a Congressionally-mandated study on the merits of longer and/or heavier trucks, finding there was not enough data to reach any firm conclusions and thus no changes to the law should be made.

Many thought Congress might approve longer or heavier trucks in the so-called MAP-21 highway bill back in 2012, but under a heavy barrage of lobbying from rail industry interests and some public safety groups, the law instead required that the DOT conduct a study on the issue before any changes to the law were made.

SCDigest Says:

OOIDA and privately others within the trucking industry worry that truckers will in the end be asked to move the heavier loads for the same rates as today's current maximum weights.
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The DOT said in the report that it "did not intend to develop or support a position on changes to current Federal truck size and weight limits in this study; rather, the agency intended to assess the impacts that any such changes might have in the various areas included in the study to better understand the impacts that trucks operating above current Federal truck size and weight limits have today."

The executive summary notes the challenges in performing this analysis, however, as projections have to be made relative to changes in current freight patterns, modes and volumes, as well as likely changes in trucking technology.

The report says that in the end that the DOT couldn't come up with any definitive conclusions on the issues due to insufficient data, and that given the insufficiency, DOT recommended lawmakers should not consider changes to the status quo until more research could be performed.

That conclusion drew strong criticism from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which in a statement said that ""Given the timing of the release of this study, it is an obvious attempt to promote administration policy, rather than give Congress the unbiased information it requested. It is appalling that after years of saying the study would not make recommendations, DOT officials would release this report - and recommend no change in current law - just days after the White House came out opposing truck productivity increases. "

The DOT said in a letter to Congress that the data limitations included the "profound absence" of weight data in crash reporting, the lack of models to predict bridge deck deterioration over time, and difficulty separating truck weight enforcement program costs from overall truck safety enforcement costs.

It added that that "a more robust study effort" would be needed to "advance the state of practice."

In its statement, the ATA added that "Our experience as an industry, as seen by the safe and efficient use of twin 33-foot trailers in the states of Florida and North Dakota, shows the obvious benefits of this configuration. As flimsy as this report is, it at least acknowledges these more productive combinations will improve efficiency, saving American consumers billions of dollars."

The shipping industry is seeking a couple of changes to current Federal law. The first is a move to allow full truck weights to reach 97,000 pounds, up from 80,000 currently, with the additional of a sixth axel/brake to maintain safety. This would allow shippers that currently "weigh out" before they cube out to get more goods in each load.

The other is to allow twin 33-foot trailers from the maximum 28-foot length currently allowed. This change is most attractive to parcel carriers such as FedEx and UPS and some LTL carriers.

In both cases, shipping interests argue the changes would actually increase safety by reducing the number of trucks that are on the road. As the DOT report notes, there are several other issues besides safety from the proposed changes, including potential damage to roads and bridges.

(Transportation Management Article Continued Below)



But both these changes have been made at the state level, without seeming to impact safety or infrastructure.

"U.S. DOT officials began this study process with the intention to only release technical findings and make no policy recommendations," said John Runyan, executive director for the Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), a shipper-backed group lobbying for the change to allow heavier trucks. "The department's inability to endorse gross vehicle weight reform without a more robust study is neither surprising nor unexpected, especially given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding this study."

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, however, opposes the change to heavier trucks, arguing that that increases would not only compromise highway safety and infrastructure, but also lead to significant new cost increases for small truckers. OOIDA and privately others within the trucking industry worry that truckers will in the end be asked to move the heavier loads for the same rates as today's current maximum weights.

This preliminary report will now be open for a period of public before a final version is issued. However, this report has no legal or regulatory force - it is simply additional input into Congressional decisions about whether to rewrite the rules, perhaps in a new highway bill if and when that ever sees the light of day.

Does the preliminary report change the calculus? It is very hard to say right now. Congress certainly could agree with the DOT and asked the agency to keep going with additional research, or disagree more data is needed and make one or both changes.

Any reaction to the DOT report? Was it overly political in nature? Do you think Congress will ultimately act? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (for email) or section (for web form) below.



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