May 14, 2008  

Larger Trucks Will Lead to More Deaths, Damage to Roads, Bridges; Risks, Costs Far Outweigh Claimed Productivity Gains

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen*  

This statement was given at a news conference.

Thank you for joining us this morning. Today, we are here to make the case against allowing bigger, heavier and longer trucks onto our highways. I’m joined by several people who have lost loved ones in crashes involving large trucks and a state trooper who was injured in a serious truck crash while protecting the public. They will share their stories with you.

Also joining us are distinguished members of Congress – Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Claire McCaskill and Rep. James McGovern. In addition, we have statements from the husband of a victim of the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis last summer; California Assemblywoman Betty Karnette, sponsor of a joint resolution urging the President and Congress to maintain current truck size and weight limits; and Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

I’d also like to recognize the members of several safety groups who are sponsoring this event with Public Citizen, including the Truck Safety Coalition, a partnership of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

This week, the trucking and shipping industries are having what they call a “fly in” to lobby members of Congress for longer, heavier trucks. They want Congress to allow a “demonstration project” in six states where trucks weighing as much 100,000 pounds would be allowed. Unfortunately, this so-called demonstration project might be better described as a “demolition derby.”

In light of this misinformation campaign, we believe it is important to share some facts with you about the dangers large trucks pose to the motoring public, as well as the mammoth burden they place on this nation’s infrastructure, which is already desperately in need of expensive repairs.

In the last five decades, the trucking industry has been relentless in its push to put larger and larger trucks on the road and to push its drivers to log longer and longer hours behind the wheel. Americans have paid dearly for these super-sized tractor-trailers, both in lives lost in crashes and dollars spent to repair the structural toll on our roads and bridges.

There is a mountain of evidence showing that the larger trucks get, the harder they are to control, the longer they take to stop and the more dangerous they are to those who share the highway with them.

In 2006, crashes involving large trucks killed 5,000 people and injured another 106,000. What makes these numbers more disturbing is that large trucks account for a disproportionate share of traffic fatalities each year. Despite making up only 3 percent of all registered vehicles, large trucks are involved in 9 percent of all fatal crashes. It’s not hard to guess who loses out in fatal crashes involving a tractor-trailer and a car: occupants of passenger vehicles account for 98 percent of the fatalities in these crashes and, unfortunately, their drivers are heaped with blame but are not alive to tell their story.

Beyond the deaths in crashes, there is also the incredible damage that these trucks do to our roads and bridges and the potential for catastrophic failure. Recent studies show that heavy trucks damage bridges at a much faster rate than passenger vehicles. Some bridges are in danger of collapsing, giving rise to the horrible possibility that we might see a repeat of what happened last summer when the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis crumbled, killing 13 and injuring another 145.

In your media packets, you’ll find fact sheets with more information on the dangers posed by large trucks, the damage they do to our roads and bridges, their inefficient fuel consumption and the failure of the trucking industry to pay its fair share for highways.

So where does it end? Apparently, there is no limit to the trucking and shipping industries’ desire to push the bounds of common sense and what our roads and bridges can handle. Their lobbyists will have you believe that bigger trucks will mean fewer trucks. That is patently false. Whenever the federal government has increased the standard size for trucks, it has NOT resulted in fewer trucks. Instead, the number of trucks on U.S. highways has consistently grown during the past few decades, even after many federal and state increases in both the size and weight of large trucks.

Today, we are calling on Congress to tell the trucking and shipping industry that enough is enough. As Congress prepares next year to reauthorize the multi-billion dollar surface transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU), it’s time we put the personal safety of the motoring public above the pursuit of trucking industry profits.

* Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977-1981.

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