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5-ton truck weight limits means more deadly truck crashes

June 22, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Bigger, heavier trucks will kill more and injure more in Michigan, which is already among the most deadly states in the U.S. for truck accident fatalities

5-ton truck weight limits

Can you think of anything scarier when you’re driving on the road with your family than being crashed into by an 80,000-lb. truck going 75 mph?

I can.

How about a bigger, heavier truck slamming into the car carrying you and your family?

Michigan is already among the states with the highest number of fatal truck crashes in the nation. Couple that with the new, higher maximum speed limit for large commercial trucks that we will see in Michigan, and you’ve now got a recipe that will cause more people to be killed in truck accidents and for injuries to be worse when these wrecks occur.

Twenty-three years ago, I asked a truck driver in a deposition to describe his truck on the road. He called it a “moving brick wall.” That image has always stayed with me.

As a truck accident attorney who has now litigated well over 300 injuries and deaths caused by trucks, I’ve also seen first-hand the devastation caused by a serious truck accident.

Higher truck weight limits may be here soon

Bigger trucks could be a reality sooner than you might think.

History suggests we’re due this year for another big push by the trucking industry to lift federal limits on maximum truck weight limits soon, allowing trucks to be 5 tons heavier. Already this year we’ve seen the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration withdraw its proposed revision to the “Carrier Safety Fitness Determination,” which would have:

“[D]etermined when a motor carrier is not fit to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in or affecting interstate commerce based on the carrier’s on-road safety data; an investigation; or a combination of on-road safety data and investigation information.”

Now that the FMCSA seems intent during the Trump administration with rolling back safety measures, I believe truck weight limits is next on the agenda.

In 2012, trucking companies and big business tried unsuccessfully to convince federal lawmakers to raise truck weight limits from 80,000 lbs. to 97,000 lbs. and to increase the use of longer-combination vehicles (LCVs).

Similarly, in 2015, it was proposed (unsuccessfully) that the maximum truck weight limits across America be increased from their current level of 80,000 lbs. to 91,000 lbs.

Based on that track record, 2017 will likely see another reckless, dangerous and, hopefully, failed proposal.

That’s what former American Trucking Association (ATA) executive Howard Abramson is predicting in his June 5, 2017, Newsweek opinion column, and he thinks it’s a terrible idea:

  • “Congress defeated [“for good reason”] an amendment in 2015 to permit trucks as heavy at 91,000 pounds on interstate highways, up from the 80,000-pound limit that has been in effect since 1982 … Bigger trucks mean more serious accidents, because they are inherently less stable and take longer to stop … Sponsors of that failed amendment have promised to reintroduce similar legislation this year. With truck-involved fatalities on the rise — up 8 percent to 4,050 in from 2014 to 2015, even though miles traveled by trucks rose by only 0.3 percent — Congress must again say no to heavier trucks on the roads.”
  • “At 80,000 pounds, trucks are already 20 to 30 times heavier than most cars, and take 20 percent to 40 percent farther to stop. Heavier trucks mean more — and more severe — crashes, in large part because the stopping distance required for a truck loaded with 91,000 pounds of freight is substantially longer than one with “only” 80,000 pounds of load.”
  • “Truck driver fatigue, truck driver speeding and the physics of stopping a heavy vehicle cause this disproportionate involvement of trucks in accidents. Allowing trucks to be almost 14 percent heavier is certain to add to the carnage.”

Significantly, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) voiced the following objections to the proposed truck weight increases in both 2015 and 2012:

  • “Increasing truck weight limits is a bad idea …”
  • “It would make highways less safe …”
  • “Truck drivers know firsthand that heavier and longer trucks are much harder to maneuver …”

How much faster can trucks drive in Michigan?

Until early this year, the maximum truck speed limit on Michigan freeways was 60 mph.

Then, despite very vocal and repeated objections from me and many safety organizations, the Michigan Legislature — with the governor’s help — gave the greenlight to trucks to drive faster at 65 mph:

“Enrolled House Bill 4423/Public Act 445 of 2016 provides that ‘[w]here the posted speed limit is greater than 65 miles per hour,’ a truck ‘with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds or more, a truck-tractor, or a truck-tractor with a semi-trailer or trailer or a combination of these vehicles shall not exceed a speed of 65 miles per hour on a limited access freeway or a state trunk line highway.’”

Are truck accident deaths and injuries in Michigan on the rise?

More people — including the truckers who drive these commercial vehicles — are dying from truck accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2015,” FMCSA Analysis Division (November 2016), pages 17 and 23):

  • “Fatal crashes involving large trucks” increased from 3,429 in 2014 to 3,598 in 2015.
  • “Total fatalities in large truck crashes” increased from 3,908 in 2014 to 4,067 in 2015.
  • “Injury crashes involving large trucks” increased from 69,000 in 2013 to 82,000 in 2014 to 83,000 in 2015.
  • “Persons injured in large truck crashes” increased from 95,000 in 2013 to 111,000 in 2014 to 116,000 in 2015.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), which has data on occupational fatalities during 2015, noted that:

“Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers recorded 745 fatal injuries, the most of any occupation.”

Similarly, Michigan Traffic Crash Facts reports that “fatal crashes” involving heavy trucks in Michigan increased 14% between 2014 and 2015 (Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, “Vehicle/Driver,” “Heavy Truck/Bus Involved Crashes,” 2014 and 2015).

Why did I say Michigan already has one of the highest number of truck accident fatalities in the nation?

According to the most recent data from the FMCSA, we know the following about truck accident fatalities and fatal truck crashes:

  • Michigan had the 13th highest number of “fatalities in crashes involving large trucks” in 2014.
  • Michigan had the 13th highest number of “fatal crashes involving large trucks” in 2014.

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