Hoffa: Congress Should Rebuild Roads, Not Lengthen Trailers

By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Huffington Post October 20, 2015

America’s highways can be a dangerous place for motorists. That’s why it makes no sense that some in Congress want to cave to trucking industry interests and approve the use of even longer double trailers on over-congested highways. Such a move further hampers highway safety and could potentially cause an uptick of deaths on the nation’s thoroughfares.

The Teamsters aren’t sitting idly by on this issue. In fact, the union will be front-and-center demonstrating its opposition to allowing trucks to pull twin 33-foot trailers nationwide during a Capitol Hill media event Wednesday. There is no reason lawmakers should force states that only permit the current 28-foot doubles to jeopardize safety all in the name of higher profits for the trucking industry.

More than 4,000 lives are claimed each year on U.S. highways in accidents involving tractor trailers. And that will almost certainly increase if the 39 states that currently don’t allow “twin 33s” on their roads are forced by Congress to open their highways to these up to 91-foot behemoths.

Longer double trailers would add an additional 10 feet to the length of existing double trailers, making it harder to pass these trucks and harder for truck drivers to see who’s beside them. Longer trucks also need greater stopping distances, and already over-capacity thoroughfares leave little room for driver reaction times when it comes to changing lanes and reduced speeds. Even the Department of Transportation is recommending lawmakers make no changes to truck size rules.

The debate over trailer length comes at the same time as elected officials grapple with a host of transportation-related issues, many of which could affect motorist safety. They include allowing teenage truckers to drive in interstate commerce; trying to dismantle the ability of states to create meal and rest breaks for their drivers; and making it harder for regulators to improve safety rules. Several of these issues could be included in legislation set to be considered by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday.

Meanwhile, transportation funding continues to hang in limbo. Once again, rather than solve the problem, Congress is poised to kick the can down the road again with a temporary short-term band-aide. Those on Capitol Hill might ensure highway spending is allowed to continue into next year, but that won’t be a substitute for a long-term infrastructure investment plan for roads, rails and bridges.

Since 2008, Congress has used more than $62 billion in taxpayer dollars to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat, and it has been over a decade since lawmakers have passed a long-term highway bill. At the same time, the transportation system continues to crumble and the safety of those who work and travel along the vast network of U.S. roads and rails is being jeopardized.

Infrastructure investment is key to creating new, better-paying jobs and getting the U.S. economy back on track. It’s a point the Teamsters have stressed as part of its “Let’s Get America Working” platform. Working on transportation projects will put thousands to work in construction jobs across the country. It will also improve our transportation network, which in turn will help business and improve the U.S. economy.

The Teamsters have a lot at stake on these issues. More than 600,000 members turn a key to a truck for a living. The nation’s roadways are their workplace. Naturally, highway safety and infrastructure investment are important to our union. But anyone except the trucking industry special interests can tell you that these changes being considered by Congress are no way to improve the safety or security of Americans.