Point-Counterpoint: Twin 33 Trailer Combinations
April 7, 2017
Current federal law (49 U.S.C. §31111(b)) prohibits states from restricting the length of trailers or semitrailers operating on the Interstate Highway System and many other federal-aid highways. The current length limits are 48 feet in instances where a truck is only towing one trailer or semitrailer – but in cases where a truck is towing a semitrailer and a trailer in tandem, states can ban trailer or semitrailer only if they are more than 28 feet in length each.
This week’s Point/Counterpoint debate: whether or not the federal government should increase those length limits by five feet per trailer or semitrailer, to 33 feet each (a 10 foot increase in the overall tractor-semitrailer-trailer combination length). 20 states currently allow such combinations on their state highways.
The issue of “twin 33’s” came up in the Senate in 2015. By a one-vote margin, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to add a provision to the fiscal 2016 transportation appropriations bill allowing twin 33s on most federal roads. The House companion bill contained a similar provision.
But Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) forced a Senate floor vote on November 10, 2015 to require that any increase in the length limits be based on a statistically significant finding from a specific, ongoing study that the increase would not have a net negative impact on public safety. That motion passed the Senate by a vote of 56 to 31, and it had the end result of ensuring that the twin 33 provision did not make it into either the omnibus FY 2016 appropriations act or the FAST Act of 2015.
Nevertheless, the proposal was popular enough to pass the House and have a close vote in the Senate two years ago, so legislation may come up again in the current Congress. The issue has been raised twice already this year in hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee – at a March 14 hearing on truck safety and again at this week’s intermodal freight mobility hearing.
We have a guest op-ed in favor of twin 33s from Dr. Ron Knipling, an independent safety researcher and consultant and the author of a comprehensive textbook on large truck safety, Safety for the Long Haul; Large Truck Crash Risk, Causation & Prevention.
We also have a guest op-ed against twin 33s from John Ladden and Harry Adler, who are the Executive Director and Public Affairs Manager, respectively, of the Truck Safety Coalition, which is dedicated to reducing the number of death and injuries caused by truck-related crashes through public education and outreach to lawmakers.