As a veteran police officer and current President of the Fresno Police Officers’ Association, I have seen firsthand that our motorists already face too many dangerous challenges on the highway. Whether it is navigating rush-hour traffic or dealing with distracted drivers, the last thing Fresnans need to face on the road is the introduction of bigger, more dangerous tractor-trailers. Unfortunately this is exactly what is going to happen if we don’t band together to prevent a very bad idea working its way through Congress.
A handful of companies in Washington, D.C. are pushing lawmakers to permit heavier and longer trucks here in California. One is lobbying to increase truck weights from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds, and another group wants to increase the length of double-trailer trucks to 91 feet. Trucks are critical to our economy, but my law enforcement experience tells me bigger rigs are simply too dangerous to be on the road. It’s not just my experience as a patrol officer responding to crash scenes. In fact, my father has been a truck driver for over 40 years. When I asked him about his experience, he agreed that larger, heavier trucks are simply unfit for California highways.
These trucks are less of an issue in other states that do not have the densely populated areas like we have. Here in California, we have a wide-ranging variety of climates and changes in the terrain that make the safety of these larger proposed trucks a serious concern.
Let’s start with tule fog, the leading cause of weather-related crashes in California. Truck drivers already have to maneuver 40 tons of machinery and cargo through traffic to get to their destination. Now there is a push to add another 4.5 tons or 10 feet of additional trailer length and a quick onset of fog, that job becomes much more dangerous.
Even without the fog, these trucks put highway safety at risk. The U.S. Department of Transportation analyzed both heavier and longer trucks for three years and just last year delivered its study to Congress. The Department’s conclusion underlined and put in bold recommendations against changes in truck size or weight.
For heavier trucks, USDOT found in limited state testing that 91,000-pound trucks, like the ones now under consideration in Congress, have 47 percent higher crash rates. It also found that these heavier trucks have 18 percent higher brake violation rates – heavier trucks with bad brakes sound like bad news to any public safety officer.
The longer trucks had serious problems, too. USDOT found in an earlier study that trucks with more than one trailer had 11 percent higher fatal crash rates. In its most recent study, the department found the longer double-trailer trucks, again like the ones under consideration in Congress, took 22 more feet to stop than twin-trailer trucks on the road today.
Aside from the safety concerns, how will these larger trucks impact the wear on California highways? Our roadways are already in disrepair with inadequate funding being allocated to keep up with the damage caused by heavy traffic. Who will pay for the added strain on our highways?
Some may ask why this is an issue for us here in Fresno. The answer is, Caltrans has long-term plans for State Route 99 to become an Interstate. We have had too many severe crashes on 99, especially south of Fresno, caused by fog. If 99 is converted to an Interstate, it will become a new thoroughfare up and down the West Coast, and we can count on an influx of big rigs. They don't need to be larger and heavier.
I urge the residents of Fresno and the Central Valley to call on our members of Congress. Tell them to oppose heavier and longer tractor-trailers on California highways.
Damon Kurtz has been a police officer for 22 years, including 13 years in Fresno. He is President of the Fresno Police Officers’ Association, which represents active and retired police officers of the Fresno Police Department.