WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate went on record Tuesday against a federal mandate that would force all states to allow trucks with extra-long double trailers on interstates, saying it first must be shown that the vehicles don't undermine safety.
By a vote of 56-31, the Senate instructed negotiators assigned to work out the final language of a sweeping transportation bill to allow individual trailer lengths to increase from 28 feet to 33 feet only after the Transportation Department completes a safety study and determines the trucks would cause no statistically significant decrease in safety.
Earlier this year, a Senate committee approved an amendment to a separate spending bill requiring all states to allow the longer double trailers. A similar provision was added to a spending bill that passed the House.
Safety advocates said they were concerned negotiators will add the same truck provision to the transportation bill even though the provision wasn't included in versions of the transportation bill passed by the House last week and the Senate in July. That's why they supported the motion by Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to instruct negotiators to make longer trucks on federal interstates contingent on the government first showing they are safe.
Negotiators are trying to work out differences between the two transportation bills and send a final bill to the White House before Nov. 20, when the government's authority to process highway and transit aid payments to states expires.
Twelve states already allow longer trailers that, together with the cab, bring the total length of a truck to 91 feet. Some large trucking and delivery companies, include FedEx and United Parcel Service, have been strongly lobbying Congress for permission to use the longer trucks on interstates in the other 38 states even though some of those states have looked at the issue and decided not to permit longer trucks.
"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," Wicker said.
The Coalition for Efficient & Responsible Trucking, an umbrella group for supporters of extra-long double trailers, says they would improve efficiency, substantially reduce truck congestion and significantly cut down on truck-related accidents by reducing the number of trucks on the road.
Safety advocate Joan Claybrook, a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief, said making a mandate to allow the longer trucks contingent on a government finding of no statistically meaningful decrease in safety sets a very high bar that will be difficult for the industry to meet.
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