Rep. Jim McGovern

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., warns against changing federal law to allow oversize trucks to share the road with other motorists. McGovern is joined by public health and safety advocates including representatives of law enforcement, background; APHA; and the Teamsters union. Photo by David Fouse/APHA

A rise in fatalities and injuries caused by large truck crashes coupled with a push by industry for bigger and heavier trucks led U.S. leaders yesterday to warn against raising federal truck size limits.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently conducting a study that could potentially influence congressional debate over the reauthorization of legislation that governs U.S. surface transportation policy and decisions to allow overweight and oversized trucks to share the road with motorists. Public health and safety advocates argue that the study is flawed and point to new research to back them up.

“I have serious concerns about the study that the Department of Transportation is conducting on this critical issue,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass, during a Capitol Hill news conference. “If DOT does not include the most common configurations of big trucks in their analysis, then the validity of the study will be called into question. Truck size and weight issues have significant safety and cost implications. We need to get this right.”

Advocates joining McGovern — including representatives from APHA, law enforcement and the Teamsters union — cited a report released this week by the National Academy of Science’s Transportation Research Board peer review panel, which verified many of their concerns. The report concluded that the study’s flawed methodology and fast turnaround time would likely yield inaccurate results.

The debate in Congress comes as the U.S. has seen a spike in injuries and fatalities due to large truck crashes. Fatalities have increased 16 percent since 2009 from 3,380 to 3,921, and the number of people injured in these crashes has increased 40 percent, from 74,000 to 104,000.

“Years of compelling and convincing research show that bigger and heavier trucks are dangerous, deadly and destructive,” said Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Also, there is overwhelming public opposition to sharing the highway with overweight and extra-long trucks and with good reason. If truck size and weight limits are increased, the American public will pay with their lives and their wallets.”

“I am here today as we celebrate National Public Health Week to raise awareness of the importance of promoting wellness and preventing disease and injury,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA. “Protecting motorists and truck drivers from preventable death and injury is an excellent example of this year’s NPHW theme, ‘Public Health: Start Here.’”

Weight comparison of oversize trucks vs. cars

Increasing truck size and weight present significant safety concerns, say public health and safety advocates. Image courtesy Truck Safety Coalition

Benjamin noted that truck transportation is responsible for three out of four freight transportation-related fatalities and nine of 10 injuries.

“While the public health community recognizes that moving goods by truck is an essential part of our nation’s freight transportation system, the economic and emotional toll of truck crashes is unnecessary, unacceptable and preventable. Compared to other modes of freight transportation the mortality and morbidity toll is staggering.”

The advocates urged the Obama administration to halt to the DOT study and strongly oppose changing federal law to allow bigger, heavier trucks in every state.