Wyandotte County Sheriff Ash: Heavier trucks would make highways more dangerous

Wyandotte County, Kan. Sheriff Don Ash says proposed legislation to let heavier semi trucks on our highways would make everyone less safe.
Wyandotte County, Kan. Sheriff Don Ash says proposed legislation to let heavier semi trucks on our highways would make everyone less safe. DAVID EULITT
By Sheriff Donald Ash
Special to The Star

As America’s crossroads and the midpoint to both the East and West coasts, Kansas is a hotbed of trucking activity. There is little argument that the trucking industry thrives here and should continue to thrive as a vital part of our economy and culture.

But the vast majority of law enforcement professionals across the country agree on another truck truism: Longer double-trailer trucks and heavier 18-wheelers on our nation’s roads, including here in Kansas, are a danger and are not something we need. Our state Legislature just passed a law allowing heavier weights for agricultural interests on limited roads. The last thing we need is an additional federal mandate making even higher weights the standard here in Kansas.

Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., boast over 160,000 residents who travel Interstates 70, 35, 635 and 435 morning, noon and night. We have no shortage of issues to deal with here in Wyandotte, including reducing crime, poverty and drug addiction. However, promoting public safety on the road is a major part of my office’s mission. It is for this reason that I am opposed to bigger and heavier trucks on Kansas highways.

One proposal Congress previously shot down called for increasing the overall weight limit of tractor-trailers, and the other one was to increase the length of the trailers of twin-trailer trucks (frequently referred to as “Double 33s”). Both of these proposals were defeated in 2015 on a bipartisan vote. Since then, even the U.S. Department of Transportation has affirmed this decision by recommending to Congress that no changes be made in the federal limits for truck weight and size at the current time.

In spite of every recommendation against these proposals, the corporate proponents of bigger and heavier trucks are making a very strong and well-funded push for this legislation yet again this year.

Think of being out on the road with the double-trailer trucks that we have now and how difficult they are for drivers to pass and maneuver around, especially in heavy rain, when the splash-and-spray effect from these trucks can significantly reduce visibility for other drivers.

Now imagine how much worse this would be with an extra 10 feet on those trucks: a 91-foot monster double-trailer truck, which would be a full 17 feet longer than the standard single-trailer truck we see on the road today. This additional length would complicate the truck driver’s ability to merge and change lanes, making the operation of the vehicle that much more dangerous.

Also, allowing trucks to haul even more freight than today’s 80,000-pound limit would endanger motorists, according to data published by the U.S. Department of Transportation in its 2016 study. The study found in limited state testing that the trucks weighing up to 91,000 pounds had 47 percent higher crash rates, as well as 18 percent higher braking violation rates.

Here is the bottom line on bigger trucks: The severity of a crash is determined by the velocity and mass of the vehicles involved. If weight or length increases, so does the potential severity of a crash.

As sheriff, my goal is to make Wyandotte County a safe and hospitable place to live, work and raise a family. I join with hundreds of other sheriffs across the nation, along with the National Sheriffs’ Association, in opposing bigger trucks — for the safety of motorists but also for the safety of my colleagues who patrol our roads.

Please join with me by sending your congressional representatives a quick email through their website or making a call to their office and asking them to oppose even bigger and heavier trucks on our roads.

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