Lose the extra weight

Feb. 19, 2010

My 95-lb, 5-ft-4-in. accountant had some serious truck-driving credentials.

My 95-lb, 5-ft-4-in. accountant had some serious truck-driving credentials.

Sure, she was speaking in the voice of her heavyweight husband, who handled big rigs for a living, but she also had been picking the helmets of Harley riders her whole life. I can’t remember what rode us into the topic, but we started talking about the difficulties of handling a load out on the road. You couldn’t fill a volume from our conversation, but the one nugget that I have kept in my pocket of knowledge for the last 15 years was what an operator has to go through when the load is heavy or unbalanced. Apparently it is not a joy ride.

Cut the fat

By my estimates, the amount of questionable decisions by President Barack Obama has reached convoy status following the signing of a measure on Dec. 16, which now allows trucks weighing as much as 100,000 lb to travel on interstates in the state of Maine. Apparently the attention scale in this issue has been tipping for some time now. With the introduction of 2010, the state of Illinois allows trucks as fat as 80,000 lb to travel on the Land of Lincoln, and also raised the minimum speed limit for the freight carriers to 65 mph. Vermont hopes to have the weight liberties of Maine soon following the approval of a pilot program.

As expected, the American Trucking Associations popped the verbal champagne bottle following the Obama signing, saying in a press release:

“Bringing our federal regulations more in-line with international competitors will reduce logistics costs for businesses and consumers, allowing them to better compete in the global economy.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety took a different turn regarding the increase in the minimum speed limit in Illinois, stating “many safety experts favor differential limits because large trucks require much longer distances than cars to stop.”

The simple laws of physics certainly do not handcuff that argument, and adding another 7,000-20,000 lb per load will most likely expand the brake area even further. The trucking industry, however, is asking everyone to put the trust into their drivers. I have no doubt that most operators are skilled enough keep a load stable while doing doughnuts in the parking lot, but what about those who are at the tail end of a 10-hour shift? What about those that are anxious to get home to their wife and kids? They are human, after all. Yet, here we are putting more TNT into the equation.

Trucks have been leaving their explosive residue on our nation’s roads for decades. I am sure some in the industry would argue that pavements are over-designed when it comes to handling the increased weight, but from where I am writing freight traffic is a major contributor to premature road failure. I have scribed dozens of road reconstruction projects during my 10-year career, and just about all of them come to life because of those 10- to 18-wheeled battering rams. Yet, here we are saying it is OK to glue some spikes to the end of those weapons.

The answer to all of our problems would be to construct truck-only lanes. However, the trillions of dollars needed for such a network is tied up in dreamland. Over the next decade or so, we need to rely more on the entire transportation system in this country. We are so far behind the hopes of maintaining the current network that it is no longer showing up on radar. With the clearing of heavier trucks you might as well launch any dream of making up ground over the Bermuda Triangle. Let’s throw more intelligence on this problem, not more weight or more speed. A few extra fiscal pounds would not hurt, either. Take it from a 205-lb, 6-ft-6-in. advocate of the industry.

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