MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - House and Senate representatives met in Washington this week and approved a five-year, $305 billion bill on our country's transportation but lawmakers did not include provisions sought by trucking companies to allow for longer and heavier trucks on federal highways.
The bill, approved 359 to 65 in the House, and 83 to 16 in the Senate, did not include major truck size or weight increases, however, the appropriations bill is still in conference and still contains double 33s in the House version, according to the CABT.
The controversial proposal would have allowed bigger and heavier trucks to travel through states like South Carolina, and some believe this change could have deadly consequences. However, those on the other side of the issue say the fight against heavier and longer loads is all about business.
Some say the safety of bigger tractor trailers comes down to the numbers.The proposal would allow trucks with two trailers that in total would measure 91 feet long and weight more than 90,000 pounds.
"We know that adding that extra length and weight we could expect to see more severe crashes," Deputy Fire Chief Kyle Minick with North Charleston Fire Department said.
Minick is also a member of the South Carolina State Firefighters Association. He works with the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks to convince lawmakers that bigger trucks are a bad idea for South Carolina roads. He said from what he's seen in his line of work, longer and heavier trucks could bring deadly repercussions. Click here to read USDOT Recommends No Changes in Current Truck Size and Weight Limits Due to 'Profound Data Limitations.'
"Because of the extra pounds, the extra stopping distance, and right now with the data saying 11 percent greater fatality currently, then we should see that increase as well," Minick said.
Public Safety officials, like Minick, say the issues with new legislation allowing bigger trucks on federal roads are clear. He believes that the effects of larger loads will be devastating.
"It takes another 22 feet longer to stop the larger, heavier truck," Minick said. "Two 18 wheelers collided and crushed a car in the center taking the life of a civilian...we want to avoid that at all cost, so we know with the longer, bigger, heavier trucks the potential is greater with that."
A recent USDOT study recommended truck size and weight limits remain the same, and it's that data organizations like the 'Coalition Against Bigger Trucks' center their fight around.
Longer stopping distances, more rollovers, less stability, and slower response times were all discovered in USDOT tests.
"We're not anti-truck," Minick said. "We believe trucks are vital to our infrastructure and our commerce...we're just asking not to go bigger, and we're asking not to go heavier."
However, the concerns don't just center around safety. Groups opposing these trucks argue they're also damaging roads and bridges. They believe that if we see an increase in truck size, we will also see an increase in deficit spending for repairs.
"We know that our roads in South Carolina and our bridges in South Carolina are deteriorating, and we talked to our congressmen and our senators about that," Minick said.
Groups against bigger trucks have already won a major battle. The Senate voted in mid-November to drop a proposal to expand the length of trucks allowed on U.S. roads, but the proposal still remains in the House.
"Every few years...the railroads and the truckers get into a big fight over trucking productivity," Rick Todd with the South Carolina Trucking Association said. "The railroads complain about market shares, and then they get other groups stirred up and make safety claims and things like that, and then people get all stirred up."
Todd believes the opposition to bigger trucks is more about business than safety. In our WMBF special report, we did find that railroad companies support groups like the CABT, which also includes law enforcement officers, elected officials, other truck drivers and motorists.
"There's this dichotomy out there," Todd said. "People want their stuff, but they don't want the trucks or the truck traffic that comes with it...you can't separate those two. You can't separate economic growth from a growth in freight demand."
However, even for the biggest supporters of larger trucks, there's little hope in the proposal passing.
"I just got back from a national meeting, and we argued amongst ourselves as to whether we wanted these changes or not, which tends to make you believe the issue probably won't move forward because not everybody is in agreement," Todd said.
South Carolina is one of 38 states that has made longer trucks illegal on its roads. If the House bill would have passed it would have overridden that. The decision was made on December 3, 2015.