Commentary

To protect public safety and preserve infrastructure, Pa. should not allow heavier trucks on its highways | Opinion

A view of traffic in Pittsburgh (Image via Getty Images)

By Scott L. Bohn

Lawmakers in both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. are talking a lot these days about infrastructure and how to pay for the repair of our crumbling roads and bridges.

As the former chief of police of West Chester borough, I know firsthand that additional revenue when needed often is siphoned from the budgets of frontline agencies, including police departments and other law enforcement agencies. This means less money that goes to protect our citizens in the commonwealth.

When I see proposals that will directly impact law enforcement’s ability to protect the public, I feel a necessity to speak out.

One such issue are proposals at the state capitol and in Washington that would permit heavier trucks on our roads. Not only do bigger trucks cause more damage to roads and bridges, but they also threaten the safety of the public.

Currently, the Pennsylvania state legislature is debating numerous bills that would allow exemptions for certain trucks to increase their weight by as much as seven-and-a-half tons, going from 80,000 pounds to 95,000 pounds. Similar proposals are under consideration in the nation’s capital.

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Law enforcement is responsible for enforcing the laws that govern large commercial vehicles. Unfortunately, we have seen far too many tragic crashes involving these big trucks at their current weights. Our firsthand experience should be enough to give anyone pause who is considering supporting weight increases.

If that is not enough for some, look no further than the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Last year, PennDOT conducted a study (Truck Weight Exemptions, A Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee Policy Impact Study, August 2020) on the impacts of heavier weight exemptions for trucks. The study found many problems with these “carve-outs”, including shifting the heaviest trucks off the interstates and onto our local roads as well as accelerating the deterioration of infrastructure.

One issue that was not looked at in the study was safety.

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The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association submitted comments, emphasizing that safety should have been included in the final report. PennDOT acknowledged that safety was beyond their scope of that work. No bigger truck study should be conducted without safety being a key component and the Pennsylvania legislature should not pass heavier truck bills until this key issue is examined.

Why do I believe there are significant safety issues for heavier trucks?

Besides personal experience, the United States Department of Transportation in its 2016 Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study Final Report to Congress recommended Congress not increase the weight or length of trucks on the road.

Regarding heavier trucks, it found higher crash rates and higher out of service violations, including 18 percent higher brake violation rates, as compared to the traditional 80,000-pound trucks on the road today.

This is especially important because a 2016 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that trucks with any out-of-service violation are 362 percent more likely to be involved in a crash.

As the Pennsylvania Legislature and Congress debate heavier trucks, they should take a step back and consider the ramifications.

USDOT recommended against bigger trucks and found serious safety concerns. PennDOT identified infrastructure concerns and did not even look at safety. Finally, law enforcement’s real-world experience says heavier trucks are not safe.

My ask to our legislators – please keep the safety of the citizens of the Commonwealth first and foremost and oppose heavier trucks. Public safety is your first priority as elected officials.

Scott L. Bohn is executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. He writes from Harrisburg.

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