June 9th, 2015 – The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2577, a bill that provides funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development for the fiscal year 2016. Included in the bill are provisions that would make highways more dangerous for everyday commuters. Below is a quick summary of the specific provisions and their effects on everyday transportation.
Longer Beds Equals Bigger Problems
One of the provisions in the bill would increase the size of trailers on twin-trailer 18-wheelers. Currently, twin-trailers are limited to 28 feet, which make the overall trailer length of the truck 56 feet. However, FedEx and UPS are pushing to increase the size of twin-trailers to 33 feet, which would increase the length of the truck to 66 total feet, 13 feet longer than the standard 53-foot single trailer 18-wheelers. The proposed enlargement of the trailers would add around 20 thousand pounds to the 80 thousand pound vehicle, and it would make their stop time 22 feet longer.
Longer Hours of Operation
The current work week for truckers is defined as 60 hours of work in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. The House bill would block the rest period standard for drivers and raise the cap on total hours driven over eight consecutive days from 70 to 82 hours. To average that out, truckers would now be able to drive 11.7 hours per day 7 days a week. The 60 hour work week was conceived as a safety measure to prevent drowsy drivers from endangering our highways, but even operating under the standard 60 hours, truckers are still falling asleep behind the wheel with deadly and expensive consequences. Increasing the hours of operation would only escalate the risk of major accidents on the roadways.
Amendment to Increase Insurance Coverage Abandoned
H.R. 2577 included an amendment that would have removed a provision that blocks the Department of Transportation from increasing existing insurance requirements for truckers. The amendment was killed in a 247 – 176 vote. A severe accident with an 18-wheeler can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions. These accidents often times result in critical injuries and total car loss. Increasing the insurance coverage of those operating these mammoths would help protect everyday drivers from the financial burdens associated with a car wreck involving an 18-wheeler.
If the Senate decides to pass H.R. 2577—which is unlikely—we would see lengthier, heavier trucks on the road that take longer to stop and have larger blind spots. The truckers operating these vehicles would be exhausted and more likely to get into a major wreck, and the insurance coverage paying for the expenses associated to those wrecks would not necessarily increase to aptly protect the victims. If the Senate does decide to pass the bill as is, President Obama has stated that he would veto it in its current form.