WASHINGTON — An Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper joined a coalition of groups here this week to warn lawmakers against allowing bigger and heavier trucks on the nation’s highways.
“Unleashing bigger trucks onto Oklahoma highways is the last thing we need,” said trooper Todd Hatchett. “They’re nothing but bad news.”
Hatchett, secretary of the Oklahoma State Troopers Association, visited the offices of Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville. Both serve on the committees that are crafting legislation to set long-term transportation policy.
The last highway bill mandated a study of how truck weights and sizes affect safety and road conditions. The Federal Highway Administration is required to submit the results of the study to Congress in November.
A House bill would give states the authority to raise the weight limits for single-trailer trucks from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds, provided the truck has six axles.
The American Trucking Associations supports that bill and other efforts to allow bigger trucks, including longer trailers. Oklahoma is currently one of 17 states that allows triple-trailers on limited networks of roads.
Darrin Roth, director of highway operations for the American Trucking Associations, said there are single state studies and federal studies concluding that 97,000-pound trucks are no more dangerous than 80,000-pound ones. Allowing the larger trucks, he said, could actually reduce the number of necessary truck trips and reduce accidents.
Moreover, he said, the interstate limits have had the perverse effect of sending heavier trucks to state roads and other highways.
Hatchett said his perspective as a public safety officer was that bigger trucks pose more dangers to motorists and the roads themselves.
In his Capitol Hill meetings, Hatchett was representing the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks. That group and others held a news conference Wednesday pointing to a Marshall University study that showed a 15.5 percent higher fatality crash rate when double-trailer trucks were involved, as compared to single-trailer trucks. The same study showed crashes with six-axle trucks had a fatality rate eight times higher than crashes involving five-axle trucks.
“If safety is our top priority, which it should be, then we’d undermine that by allowing bigger, more dangerous trucks onto our already overcrowded roads,” Hatchett said. “Lawmakers in Washington need to understand there are real consequences to this decision — consequences that impact the safety of their constituents.”
According to federal statistics, large trucks were involved in 124 fatal crashes in Oklahoma in 2012. That was up from 100 in 2011.