Image: U.S. Senate

Image: U.S. Senate

The Senate has approved a bipartisan motion that instructs Senate conferees to the highway bill to oppose the inclusion of a provision that would allow 33-foot long double trailers to operate on highways regardless of state laws.

The motion, spearheaded by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) passed on Nov. 10 by a vote of 56-31, with 13 Senators not voting.

Back in June, the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved an amendment to the Senate version of the T-HUD funding bill requiring states to allow trucks pulling twin 33s on their highways.

Wicker pointed out in a statement released after the motion passed that when Appropriations had considered the length measure, “the Department of Transportation advised that there is currently not enough data to draw firm conclusions on the safety implications of double 33-foot trailers. DOT recommended that no changes to truck size be considered at this time.”

According to Wicker’s office, the motion to instruct Senate highway-bill conferees is similar to an amendment offered by Wicker and Feinstein in July. That amendment called for DOT to complete a “comprehensive safety study” before longer trucks are permitted on highways and require that a formal rulemaking, complete with public notice and comment period, be undertaken to make the change.

“Thirty-eight states say these longer trucks are not safe, and they tell us that they don’t want them on the highways and byways,” Wicker said in the Nov. 10 statement. “I think we should respect their decision. Today’s vote against this federal government mandate sends a strong signal that we stand with the overwhelming majority of Americans who do not want to contend with these longer double trucks on their roads. I am hopeful that those who are writing the omnibus appropriations bill and the final highway bill have taken note of the Senate’s position.”

Feinstein remarked in the statement that “the Senate said loud and clear that twin 33s are dangerous and we must study their safety before allowing longer trailer trucks on our roads. It’s encouraging that a majority of my colleagues agree with this safety-focused, reasonable approach.”

She added that “slipping such a sweeping change into an omnibus funding bill without understanding the consequences is not the way this should be handled.”

The trucking industry has been divided on the twin 33 proposal. Trucking stakeholders in favor of allowing the nationwide running of twin 33s include the American Trucking Associations and the Coalition for Efficient & Responsible Trucking, a nonprofit organized by leading LTL carriers.

Those within trucking opposed to denying the right of states to prohibit the operation of twin 33s include the chief executives of over 13 truckload and 2 LTL carriers; the state trucking associations of Arizona, Louisiana and Mississippi; the Truckload Carriers Association; The Trucking Alliance, a coalition of trucking businesses that lobbies for safety improvements; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

On Nov. 11, Steve Williams, president of The Trucking Alliance, applauded the Senate motion calling for conferees to reject twin 33s. "These 91’ long double tractor-trailers are largely untested on U.S. highways and the Senate's bipartisan vote sends a clear message that allowing them without further study would be irresponsible to the public, truck drivers, and smaller trucking companies," he said in a statement.

The Teamsters also approved the Senate action. The union contends that “allowing trucks to pull 33-foot trailers would add an additional 10 feet to the length of existing double trailers, making it harder to pass these trucks and harder for truck drivers to see who's beside them. Longer trucks also need greater stopping distances, and already over-capacity thoroughfares leave little room for driver reaction times when it comes to changing lanes and reduced speeds.”

In a statement, IBT President Jim Hoffa said that “when we must invest in fixing our aging infrastructure, the last thing we should do is introduce larger, more dangerous trucks on our highways. The safety of our members and the entire driving public is too important."

The conference committee is charged with hammering out a compromise between the highway bills passed separately by the House and Senate.

What emerges from conferencing will go to the House and Senate for a final vote. At that point, it will not be open to further amendment so the conference process affords the last opportunity to modify any element of what appears will be, with President Obama’s signature, the first highway bill passed in ten years that funds projects beyond two years

Congress has to complete conferencing and pass a final long-term highway bill or slap on yet another patch by Nov. 20, as that's when the current short-term funding extension expires.

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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