The Case for Raising the Interstate Semi Trailer Weight Limit

by TJ on February 21, 2011

Today, Used Semi Trailers is taking a look at the proposed changes in truck weight limits.

The Safe & Efficient Transportation Act has been reintroduced into Congress last week.  The bill looks to provide individual states with the authority to set the Interstate commerce weight limit for trucks travelling through the state.  At the moment, the regulation of Interstate commerce is under the jurisdiction of the federal government which set the weight limit at 80,000 pounds back in 1982.

There is increasing pressure to change this now, especially with the first Highways Reconstruction review in six years currently underway.

SETA proponents claim that the current weight restrictions are hampering the efficiency of the trucking industry.  The experience from overseas demonstrates that increasing truck load limits results in dramatic transportation efficiencies, and the US trucking industry could be 30% more efficient over the next ten years simply by raising the weight limit.  This experience has been backed by the increase in the truck load limits in the United Kingdom.  The Brits increased their maximum laden weight limit to 97,000 pounds in 2001.

A further effect of increasing truck weights is the reduction in truck-related fatalities and injuries. Again citing the UK study and experience, the increase in truck weight results in a decrease in the number of trucks required to ship cargo (which stands to reason).  Fewer truck journeys means the probability of accidents is reduced and this was observed in practice in the UK.  Overall, fatal truck-related incidents reported a decline of 35% in fatalities.

At the same time, the US is under increasing pressure to maintain trucking efficiency.  Freight tonnage is expected to double by 2035, while truck traffic is increasing at a voracious rate (11 times faster than the road infrastructure which supports it).  By increasing the weight limit for Interstate commerce, there will be a reduced requirement for truck journeys on America’s roads, though there will still be an overall increase in trucks and cargo totals shipped (which means there will not be a need for job losses).

Fewer truck journeys also have environmental implications.  Increased weight limits mean greater fuel efficiencies and that means reduced costs to operators, but also fewer emissions per ton of freight hauled.  Environmentally, there will be reduced emissions for the same amount of freight hauled and a reduced need for trucks to haul it – with very positive and beneficial implications for the environment.

SETA is being proposed by Representatives Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Jean Schmidt (R-OH), and the Bill has broad bi-partisan support.  There are objections on the grounds of increased environmental harm, the ability of the existing road infrastructure to handle the increased weight and from some truck industry representatives concerned over the potential for job losses.

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