CTP says DOT study on larger trucks supports raising size limits

Last month, the Department of Transportation (DOT) ultimately decided that a study it was ordered to conduct on changing federal limits on truck sizes and weights wasn't thorough enough to influence any Congressional decisions. However, one shipping group recently noted that the study does, in fact, tell Congress everything it needs to know about making the alterations. 

The DOT last month called the data limitations in its study "profound" in recommending that the information not be used in any consideration of the limits placed on truck sizes and weights, according to the Journal of Commerce (JOC). The study was ordered in 2012, and meant to determine the effect that larger trucks would have on highway safety, infrastructure, enforcement efforts and modal shift.

Shippers group says DOT study contains enough data
The Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP) sent a letter to Congress explaining that the study did, in fact, come to some important conclusions. The group of 200 shippers and allied associations noted that data in the study actually supports the use of larger trucks on highways. The group stated that a transition to 91,000 and 97,000 pound vehicles would improve efficiency and highway safety, while having a negligible effect on modal shift.

There have been concerns that heavier trucks could increase highway fatalities and lead to more serious accidents. However, supporters of changing the limitations believe that larger trucks will help shippers move e-commerce goods more efficiently, according to the JOC. Proponents of larger trucks, such as the American Trucking Association (ATA), also believe that they would, in fact, improve safety. Additionally, there is the notion that vehicles that distribute goods more efficiently would also ease the trucking industry's issue with driver availability. 

DOT cites insufficient crash reporting statistics as reason for opposition to limits changes
With so much uncertainty surrounding such a change, DOT was asked to take a look at truck sizes to determine whether larger vehicles would, in fact, make highways more dangerous, among other things. The department ultimately advised Congress not to take a look at changing federal limits on truck sizes because of data limitations, after looking at the issue for three years and compiling 1,100 pages of information. 

Peter M. Rogoff, undersecretary of transportation, noted that there wasn't enough data from crash reporting statistics for researchers to determine vehicles' weights during collisions, the JOC reported. The DOT was also unable to determine whether, during accidents, trucks were fully loaded or packed over capacity, as well as whether the weight was distributed evenly. Rail organizations welcomed the DOT's disavowal of its own research. 

CTP finds enough data to support larger trucks in DOT study
The CTP, though, is of a different opinion. Information the group took from the DOT study comprised a fact sheet included in the letter to Congress demonstrating points on highway safety, efficiency and modal shifts. The organization noted that there aren't many maneuverability differences between five- and six-axle configuration trucks. Turning and braking for the larger vehicles were each shown to be comparable to the control vehicle used in research. 

The study also found that a move to larger trucks wouldn't take much costly investment in infrastructure, and will actually reduce vehicle minutes traveled, according to the CTPs findings in the data. Additionally, the group found that raising federal limits on truck sizes and weights wouldn't affect modal shifts very much. Though some would transition from freight rail to trucks, the $70 billion industry likely wouldn't feel the effect very much. 

"One of the most notable findings of the DOT study is the minimal diversion of freight from rail to truck as a result of more productive trucks," the groups explained in the letter. "Such a small amount of freight diversion is more than offset by the projected higher overall growth of freight volume for all modes."

Rail groups maintain opposition to larger trucks, despite CTP findings
However, rail groups remain opposed to the idea of increasing truck sizes. The country's largest rail lobby group, the American Association of Railroads, expressed its own opposition to potential changes to truck size and weight limitations. 

"The freight rail industry in 2015 will fight any attempt to increase existing truck size and weight limits," the AAR's 2015 outlook report stated, according to the JOC. "Larger and heavier trucks mean more gridlock, greater environmental damage and higher taxpayer costs to repair damage to highways and bridges."

It remains to be seen how, if at all, the CTP letter will sway Congress. ATA President Bill Graves previously accused the DOT of pandering to the administration when it disavowed its own research, since, just prior to the release of the study, the White House announced its opposition to larger truck sizes.