This has been a big week in the truck safety world. I’ll bring you up to date.
The Senate Version of the Transportation Authorization Bill has been passed for several weeks. It contains a dangerous federal increase for double trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet. The House version of the Authorization Bill doesn’t have the 33 foot trailers, but several other dangerous amendments were being offered. The House bill had more than 200 amendments to be voted on and approved in order to be attached to their bill. We were interested in about 15 of the amendments. A few were offered in support of safety efforts, the majority were things we opposed, things that were advantageous to truck companies, but dangerous for everyone driving the roads.
For some of Tuesday and the majority of the day on Wednesday my husband and I along with many other Truck Safety Coalition volunteers and staff watched the House of Representatives on CSPAN, following the arguments, urging on our supporters, holding our breath as votes were cast, smiling broadly when something we needed passed, sighing in defeat when many more votes didn’t go our way. Facebook messaging and the phone kept us connected when things got confusing.
By the end of the day on Tuesday we were all exhausted and many of us were feeling pretty discouraged. But we shouldn’t be. We won a couple of huge battles.
We stopped Representative Ribble (from Wisconsin) who had an amendment increasing the federal maximum weight on large trucks in all states from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. He has consistently tried to get truck weight increased, with multiple amendments on multiple bills in the past. Once again the politicians heard the public. Overwhelmingly Americans don’t want bigger, heavier trucks on the roads they share. We keep saying that loudly and clearly and this time we were heard. The amendment was defeated 236 no to 187 yes with both Democrats and Republicans saying no.
Additionally an amendment offered by Rep. Rooney (Florida) to allow the gross weight on certain trucks hauling livestock to be as high as 95,000 pounds if a special permit was purchased for $200 was defeated, 240 no to 185 yes, again both Democrats and Republicans said no.
And an amendment to increase the weight of car haulers, offered by Rep Mica (Florida) was withdrawn because there was not enough support from others in the House.
All of this good stuff happened near the beginning of the process and we were feeling pretty happy. But then things started to unravel. The amendment we supported that would ask for a study before a teen driver pilot program was put in place was turned down. An amendment that would remove hurdles placed on a study the DOT had been planning to do regarding minimum liability insurance was defeated. Several amendments specific to certain states allowing for exemptions in size or weight were approved.
Our emotions began to get the better of us. We’ve worked so hard to gain what seem like common sense rules. It was hard to be defeated again and again. But we have to remember that the fight is not over just because the House of Representatives has put together a bill that isn’t perfect. As one of the House Members stated – “I thought when I was elected 4 years ago I could come to Washington and tell everyone my good ideas and they’d all recognize them as good ideas and we’d get things done. But then I got here and found out lots of people had different thoughts on what was a good idea. It’s all so much harder than I thought it would be.” He isn’t someone on our side of the issues, but his comment is relevant to all of us.
It’s all so much harder that any of us thought it would be.
The House passed it’s version of the Transportation Authorization Bill on Thursday. What happens next?
Well, the House version and the Senate version have to go to conference where the differences between them will be hammered out. That’s where we have another chance at gaining a few more inches, or feet, or maybe even miles toward safety.
The encumbrances on the DOT study to discern the cost/benefit of increasing minimum liability insurance is not in the Senate version of the bill, so we might have a chance of getting rid of it. The 33 foot trailers are not in the House version of the bill, so again we might have a chance of getting rid of those too.
When we know more we’ll share it with all of you. You can help us by calling your members of Congress to express your disappointment in the lack of attention to safety in these bills. Though we made some progress we are still fighting against the deep pockets of the trucking industry. And we aren’t so innocent to believe that Representative Ribble won’t try again to get heavier trucks federally mandated.
We have to stay vigilant. The American Trucking Association actually said that there was nothing unsafe in any of the amendments they had pushed. Apparently they think it’s perfectly safe to allow young inexperienced drivers to handle even heavier, longer trucks with only minimal insurance.
We don’t think that’s a good idea. So we took a day off to rest and now we’re going to get back to the fight. We can’t lose track of the fact that once again we kept heavier trucks off most of our roads. That alone will save lives. Saving lives and reducing the number of injuries is all we’re asking for.
Seems simple, doesn’t it.