lates to truck size and weight.
Senator EXON. I can hear it now. Now hear this: We have worked
very hard on this matter. These are our recommendations. We are
going to accommodate meeting halfway the difference in weights
and lengths between the laws in the United States and the laws
in Mexico, and safety concerns are going to be taken care of. Do
not worry about it, because we are going to have better trained
I am worried about that scenario, frankly. My question is: If you
come up with that kind of a scenario, and after consultation with
us, we say no, then what happens? Do the trucks come in anyway?
Mr. Slater. Well, Mr. Chairman, I would hope that we would
not come up with a scenario to which your response would be "no."
I do believe that it is our effort not to just go in and merely com-
promise, but to clearly develop harmonization results that are win-
And clearly, it is not just a focus on truck size and weight that
has to be the primary concern, as we engage in these negotiations
and which country wins and which country loses, which has most
of its way and which does not.
It has to be an effort by which we seek to make one, one and one
something greater than three. And I think that is what the whole
NAFTA process has been about, to say that we can build an eco-
nomic zone that includes practically all of this continent, which can
bring about goods that we can enjoy, that we can enjoy individ-
ually, but working together, we can enjoy collectively.
That is the way we are approaching it, not to just have a simple
compromise where you cut it down the middle, but where we truly
create a result that is win-win.
And if it is going to be win-win as it relates to this country and
our interests, it has to help stimulate our economy. But it also has
to address the issue of safety.
And those are two points that the Secretary has consistently
made. We are going to do it in a way that ensures our continuing
strength as an economic power, that supports the economic activi-
ties that we can all enjoy as partners.
But we also have an interest in safety in this country, and that
will not be subordinated.
Mr. Mead. Mr. Chairman, I believe the state of the law, from the
work we did on NAFTA, is such that Congress would have to af-
firmatively act if it were to, say, permit higher weights for Mexican
trucks, that affirmative action on the part of Congress will be nec-
essary for Mexican trucks.
Senator ExoN. Putting it another way, the final say-so would be
with Congress in that regard, and the negotiators could not over-
ride whatever the law is. They would have to consult with us, come
to Congress, and say: This is what we have come up with in our
detailed investigation and review. We think it is permissible, al-
though this has to be changed in our law, and that has to be
changed in our law. Then it would be up to Congress to make a
determination as to whether or not Congress wanted to go along
with their recommendations.
Mr. Mead. I just wanted to engage in a dialog with the Congress.
Senator ExoN. I understand that. I was looking at the — well, you
are forewarned. I think you are approaching it from the right posi-
tion. I just wanted you to know.
Mr. Mead. Yes, sir.
Senator ExoN. Grentleman, thank you very much. There will be
additional questions for the record. You are excused.
The next panel I am pleased to call at this time is Dr. Gerald
A. Donaldson, Assistant Director for Highway Safety, and Ms. Kay
E. Konz, Nebraska Volunteer Coordinator, Citizens for Reliable
Safety and Safe Highways— CRASH.
Kay and I have worked together on a whole series of matters. I
am very glad to have her here. She is accompanied by Joan
Claybrook, the cochair of CRASH and president of Public Citizens.
We are delighted to have all of you here.
We will start with you. Dr. Donaldson. Please proceed.
[A brief recess was taken.]
STATEMENT OF DR. GERALD A. DONALDSON, ASSISTANT DI-
RECTOR FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY, ADVOCATES FOR HIGHWAY
AND AUTO SAFETY
Dr. Donaldson. Thank you.
Let me first express my gratitude to the subcommittee and to
you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to present our views on
truck length and related safety and infrastructure issues.
I am Gerald Donaldson, senior research director for Advocates
for Highway and Auto Safety. We are a coalition of consumer
health, safety, law enforcement, and insurance companies working
together to improve highway and vehicle safety.
As you know, our written testimony has already been filed with
the subcommittee. I'd like to summarize and extend my remarks,
One of the major features of trucking operations that I would
like to emphasize here today is the endless upward racheting of the
lengths and weights of combination trucks.
And indeed, Mr. Chairman, you have even pointed that out your-
self in the last several minutes.
Any gains in one of these sectors are always followed up quickly
with inducements to one State after another to increase axle or
gross weight limits or both.
Mr. Chairman, these size and weight increases have over-
whelmed America's highways. We have supplied extensive docu-
mentation in our testimony through reports primarily from the
General Accounting Office of the pavement and bridge damage
these giant rigs inflict on our roads.
We nave shown how even 48-foot-long trailers, much less 53- to
60-foot trailers, cannot negotiate even one-half of the interstate
ramps and interchanges in the United States.
So, it is clear to us that the time has now come for a serious look
by Congress at the need to establish legislation to complement the
current LCV freeze, a Federal law that will level off weight in-
creases and limit trailer lengths on major federally assisted high-
And I emphasize here the word "complement," Mr. Chairman. I
am sure that trucking representatives here today will characterize
the August 1994 GAO report on LCVs as a call for the LCV freeze
to come to an end and return the use of LCVs to State choice.
We don't believe the GAO report justifies any relaxation of the
current freeze on extending the types of rigs, routes, or other State
operating structures presently in place.
The GAO conclusion of allowing State discretion once more to
control LCV use is at odds with the evidence it presents on the
safety of these big rigs. The LCV freeze should not be canceled.
It should be buttressed, buttressed by a cap on trailer lengths
and a renewed Federal management role that controls the use of
excessive weights and the misuse of permits.
While the LCV freeze has been in place for only 3 years, Mr.
Chairman, the trucking industry has completed a national cam-
paign for the 53-foot-long semitrailer as the new industry standard.
It has swept across the map of America. There is only one State
now that is a holdout. And in point of fact, Mr. Chairman, the GAO
stresses itself that almost no one today wants freight delivered in
a 48-foot-long box. They want it in a 53-foot trailer.
So, if the LCV freeze were lifted, the safety community knows
full well that the turnpike double composed of twin 53-foot long
trailers is waiting in the wings. One State has already attempted
to allow twin 59-and-one-half-foot-long doubles, a rig more than
135 feet long.
And it was reined in only by a strong letter from the Federal
Highway Administration. And I say a strong letter, Mr. Chairman,
because the only way the Federal Highway Administration can con-
trol that problem is through jawboning. Essentially, its legal au-
thority was undermined in the 1982 STAA.
Now, in the interest of time, I will have to forswear other consid-
erations. I would like to put before you today my brief remarks on
the adverse effects of extra long, extra heavy trucks.
These are addressed in detail in my written testimony including
highway cost responsibilities that are not being met by bigger,
extra heavy accommodation.
And I would also just like to allude here, Mr. Chairman, to the
multimodal purposes behind having a balanced transportation pro-
That includes the National Highway System and Secretary
Peiia's recent initiative to have a National Transportation System
with a balanced approach toward the movement of freight and peo-
ple. The National Highway System will be a constituent part of the
National Transportation System.
But last, Mr. Chairman, there is a special need here today to re-
spond to an argument, an argument that is made repeatedly by the
trucking industry that it regards as a hands-down legitimization of
bigger and bigger combination trucks.
It is the claim that bigger, heavier trucks, including extra long
semitrailer rigs and LCVs are safer trucks because the same
amount of cargo is carried in fewer rigs, thereby reducing overall
exposure to crashes both for the commercial drivers as well as for
the motorists who share the roads with them.
I must say, Mr. Chairman, when trucking representatives invoke
this argument, they apparently believe that we should be struck
dumb with its power. This argument does have immediate intuitive
But that is where its integrity begins and ends. The impression
that the trucking industry wants to leave with you is that it is al-
ways playing a zero-sum game, that there is a limited number of
trucks carrying a fixed amount of cargo and that it would be safer
and produce less congestion to boot if fewer trucks carry the same
amount of freight.
First of all, Mr. Chairman, trucking in this country is not and
has never been a zero-sum game. Look at the increase every year
in ton-miles of travel and tractor registrations.
I know that there are two phenomenons, two things that abhor
a vacuum: nature and the American trucking industry. The drive
is always for more freight, more tonnage, more trucks, and more
State highways open to bigger and heavier rigs.
Is it true that a bigger, heavier truck will make America's high-
ways safer? By no means. In fact, the evidence goes exactly the
Not only are the dangers of LCVs already well documented as
we did to justify Congress' adoption of the 1991 freeze, but bigger
rigs, especially rigs over 80,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, are
more dangerous than lighter combinations.
I am not going to take the committee's time right now, Mr.
Chairman, to read the evidence into the record. I have it here in
detail and will be able to supply it to the committee.
I just want to point out that apart from longer trailers even get-
ting jammed in elevated freeway ramps, swinging out into opposing
lanes to make turns, ofiFtracking over highway center lines and
lanes and terrorizing motorists who are next to them, and over
curbs and shoulders, longer, heavier trucks cause more congestion
apart from their safety problems.
The 1985 Highway Capacity Manual from the National Academy
of Sciences, just as an example, calculated that a standard tractor-
trailer with a 48- or even 45-foot trailer was already equivalent to
several cars in its detrimental effect on congestion.
But no one has explicitly calculated the congestion effects of a
slow-moving, 120-foot-long multitrailer rig weighing 130,000
pounds trying to climb up and down even interstate grades.
So, let me stop here with a brief recitation of evidence disproving
the claim that we are better off with bigger, longer, heavier trucks.
It is patently clear that it isn't even a wash.
We are worse off, especially in light of the fact that the trucking
industry does not play a zero-sum game. It wants longer and heav-
ier trucks and more of them on more roads.
As always, Mr. Chairman, we are happy to supply documentation
for every claim I make in my remarks. I would be happy to respond
to any questions or request for information that you and the other
subcommittee members might have concerning our submitted writ-
ten testimony or the additional comments I have just made.
Senator EXON. Doctor, thank you very much. I would remind you
and the other witnesses that your statements have been incor-
porated. We will be taking a look with great interest at some of the
good backup material that you have presented. Thank you for your
[The prepared statement of Dr. Donaldson follows:]
Prepared Statement of Gerald A. Donaldson, Ph.D.
Let me first express my gratitude to the Subcommittee and to you, Mr. Chairman,
for this opportunity to present our views on truck length and related safety and in-
frastructure issues involving big trucks on our nation's highways and bridges. I am
(jerald Donaldson, Senior Research Director for Advocates for Highway and Auto
Safety, a coalition of consumer, health, safety, law enforcement, and insurance com-
panies working together to improve highway and vehicle safety. Advocates is a not-
for-profit Washington, D.C. -based organization that deals with both federal and
state legislative and regulatory actions affecting passenger vehicle, truck, highway,
and bridge safety. Although our headquarters are in Washington, D.C, our board
members consist of a broad section of public and business representatives from
every region of the country.
Mr. Chairman, big trucks impact our roads and bridges, and afTect the safety of
millions of Americans, far out of proportion to their numbers. Over the last forty
years since the beginnings of the Interstate system, big trucks have gotten longer,
heavier, and wider. But our cars during this period have gotten lighter and smaller,
especially over the 15 years. In addition, the overwhelming majority of our roads
and bridges were designed for much smaller and lighter trucks.
Even our Interstate system was designed for shorter, narrower, and lighter com-
mercial vehicles. Despite extensive reconstruction and rehabilitation over the last
decade and more, the current sizes and weights of big trucks stress the bridges,
pavements, and other design features of this system beyond their tolerance levels.
The design evolution of our highways and bridges — even the Interstate system —
has not kept pace with the constant growth in truck size and weight, especially over
the past 20 years. Our pavement cannot withstand the punishment dealt by giant
rigs, many running either legally or illegally overweignt; our ramps ana inter-
changes cannot allow these immense vehicles to move through an exit or safely turn
a comer even on a multi-lane highways; and motorists who share the roads with
big rigs sufler in incredibly disproportionate numbers from the crashes of oversized
tractor-trailers. When big trucks and smaller vehicles tangle, the occupants in the
cars, pickup trucks, or vans are sure losers: they suffer 98 percent of all the deaths,
but only two (2) percent of those killed are in the big trucks.^ Big trucks more than
26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating are only two (2) percent or less of the reg-
istered vehicles on our roads, but in 1993 alone they were responsible for 11 percent
of all motor vehicle trafiic fatalities — 4,235 dead.
The combination of inadequate roads and bridges, downsizing of passenger vehi-
cles, and the never-ending spiral of truck size and weight increases has had lethal
consequences. But, Mr. Chairman, you may hear testimony today that will neverthe-
less portray a bright and shining record for big trucks in our nation. You will be
told that big trucks are better than ever; the claim of longer trucks increasing both
safety and operating risks will be downplayed or dismissed. Heavier trucks will be
discounted as a source of increasing, devastating damage to our highways and
bridges, and strong rebuttals will be lodged against any implication that big trucks
don't pay their fair share for the use and destruction of our roads.
Even the latest Gteneral Accounting Ofiice (GAO) report on longer combination ve-
hicles (LCVs)2 — will be claimed to liberate the trucking industry from the grip of
the current LCV freeze, it will be argued that all the enormous evidence filed with
Congress at the start of the nineties showing the dangers of LCVs is mooted — the
line that Congress drew around LCVs to stop their expansion will be claimed to
have been erased.
Is this true, Mr. Chairman? Is the LCV freeze just a big mistake? Or does it rep-
resent a thoughtful, far-seeing decision based on careful deliberation by Congress
after it examined the record of how trucks continue a never-ending cycle of increases
in length, then weight, then length, then weight, until they overwhelm our infra-
structure and threaten our safety in an unprecedented manner? Does it reflect a
major thrust of the Congressional transportation philosophy of the Intermodal Sur-
face EfTiciency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) to move beyond single mode solutions of freight
1 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, IIHS Facts 1994: Large Trucks.
2 Longer Combination Trucks: Potential Infrastructure Impacts. Productivity Benefits, and
Safety Concerns, GAO/RCED-94-106, August 1994 ("1994 LCV Report").
movement so that the pressures on our roads and bridges, and the dangers of giant
multi-unit combination trucks, are not elevated to a higher level?
Congress is keenly aware of how trucks have grown over the years, how the in-
dustry has repeatedly used the strategy of approaching each state with the sup-
posed economic benefits of bigger trucks, including multi-unit combination rigs with
two or three trailers. When any state agrees to a longer "eighteen-wheeler" with a
53-, 57-, or even 60-foot semi-trailer, or agrees to raise its axle and gross weight
limits, trucking industry representatives are quick to point out to adjacent states
that they are now at a competitive disadvantage.
An so it goes, Mr. Chairman. Longer and longer trailers start rolling across the
U.S. map. The longer rigs inevitably trigger subsequent requests for higher weight
limits; heavier ana heavier rigs are then allowed to operate, often with cheap per-
mits. Finally, after a majority of the states have conformed to the higher size and
weight limits desired by the industry, trucking industry representatives come to
Congress with a request for federal pre-emption that forces recalcitrant states to ac-
cept longer, heavier trucks.
Although this Subcommittee has jurisdiction over truck length apart from
weights, I want to emphasize today the inextricable connection of length and weight
because the long-term strategy of the trucking industry has been to gain increases
in one in order to leverage the other. For example, when higher axle and gross
weight limits swept across the U.S. during the late sixties and early seventies, sev-
eral states insisted that for safety and road preservation, it made more sense to
keep lower axle and gross weight limits.^ This resistance to higher weights, espe-
cially by a few key states, is what led to the trucking provisions in the 1974 High-
A new federal weight ceiling was permitted on the Interstate system at 80,000
pounds, with an increase in the single axle limit from 18,000 to 20,000 pounds and
in the tandem axle limit from 30,000 to 34,000 pounds. The weight of commercial
vehicles on bridges was also contr6lled by a combination of the 80,000 pounds gross
weight ceiling and the Bridge formula which, among other things, controlled axle
spacings. By the start of the eighties, all but three states had exercised the option
to raise their axle and gross limits on the Interstate limit. The 1982 Surface Trans-
portation Assistance Act (STAA) eliminated this remaining opposition to higher
But these weight increases from 1974 to 1982 did not satisfy the trucking indus-
try. The next step was to increase the capacity of each combination by the use of
longer, wider trailers. Throughout the remainder of the seventies, semi-trailers grew
another three (3) feet to 48-foot long units that were quickly labelled as the new
"industry standard." Semi-trailers also fattened another six (6) inches, from 96
inches, or eight (8) feet wide, to 102 inches, or eight and one-half feet in width.
The industry moved swiftly after the 1974 legislative victory to claim one state
after another for the longer, wider trailers. Simultaneously, expansion in the num-
ber of routes that would allow this bigger rig was argued in one state legislature
and highway department after another. Along with the demand for bigger trailers
on more roads were the rationalizations for more liberal overweight or oversized
permitting practices. State after state agreed with these arguments — bigger trailers
were allowed on more roads, and cheap permits that don't even come close to cap-
turing the additional destructiveness of even slight increases in truck weights were
put in place. Nondivisible load permits were issued willy-nilly for many commodities
that clearly were divisible cargo that could and should be carried by two rigs.
But this wasn't enough. The nation was still a patchwork quilt of limitations on
size, weights, and trailer lengths. The trucking industry wanted greater uniformity;
it argued successfully for more federal pre-emption of state regulation of truck sizes.
The truck provisions of the STAA were more far-reaching than any that had pre-
ceded it: Congress told the states to remove all overall truck and trailer length lim-
its and to permit at least 48-foot long trailers, or twin 28-foot trailers, that were
102 inches wide. Furthermore, combination truck length limits were not only illegal
on the Interstate, but also on a Designated National Network (DNN) of arterial
highways that the states would select in cooperation with the Federal Highway Ad-
That cooperation didn't last long. Many states, especially in the eastern half of
the U.S., balked at allowing wider, longer combination rigs on their non-Interstate
highways, citing safety reasons and hignway design incompatibility for these exclu-
sions. Many states submitted only a handful of routes that they argued could meet
reasonable safety and infrastructure damage criteria.
3 The states, with few exceptions, also controlled either the overall length of trucks or capped
the length of trailers. In general, the goal was to keep trailers at 45 feet in length.
When FHWA saw that many states refused to allow widespread operation of
longer, wider combination trucks, the agency unilaterally prescribed what routes
would be mandated in each state, thereby countermanding state judgments on the
safety of their roads. The states were required to open up more than two-thirds of
our Primary arterial highways to these bigger rigs, including thousands of miles of
narrow, windingtwo-lane, two-way roads that many states closed to longer, wider,
heavier trucks. This action provided bold underlining of the ability of the trucking
industry to mount an offensive to secure bigger, heavier rigs on a state-by-state
basis and then achieve federal ratification that brings reluctant states to brook.
rd like to emphasize here, Mr. Chairman, the reason why Advocates and other
members of the transportation safety community were enthusiastic about this Com-
mittee's willingness to address the issue of trailer length, including the need to set
length limits on the incipient National Highway System. As you know. Congress-
man Oberstar has already introduced a bill in the House, H.R. 4496, aimed at con-
trolling the continuing increases in single trailer length throughout the U.S. This
is an action whose time has come. When Congress voided truck length restrictions
in the 1982 STAA, it simply stated that a 48-foot long semi-trailer, or two 28-foot
long units — a short semi-trailer pulling another short trailer — were the minimum
lengths that would be required on the Interstate system and the additional Primary
arterial s selected to make up the DNN.
But no upper limits were established in law. As a result, the trucking industry
has moved once again over the past several years to create the fait accompli of a
new "industry standard" — the 53-foot long semi-trailer that has swept across the
U.S. map leaving only a single state saying "no" to these bigger rigs on its high-
ways. While this tide has liiled virtually all states to the longer trailer, another
wave is set to move across the landscape. Many states now permit even longer trail-
ers, some of them 60 feet long. After the 53-foot "industry standard," will a 57-foot
"industry standard" be far behind?
In part, Mr. Chairman, this increase in single trailer lengths is a byproduct of
the LCV freeze. Prohibited from seeking more states, more routes, and even bigger