THE United States trucking industry and some highway-safety groups are facing off over big trucks. We're talking big trucks - double and triple-trailer rigs that can be equal in length to five or six passenger cars lined up bumper-to-bumper. Try having one of those behemoths roar past you out on the interstate! On this issue, the truckers ought to give the right-of-way to the car-driving public. Currently, truck weights are limited in most states to 80,000 pounds gross weight - the size of a typical twin trailer, with each unit about 28 feet long. But heavier trucks are allowed on designated highways in some 20 states because of "grandfather clauses" in federal highway legislation. The truckers now want to allow these larger rigs to go national on designated highways. Specifically, truckers want to be able to thunder down the nation's interstates and other limited-access roads pulling two 48-fo o
t long trailers, called "twin 48s," or three 28-foot trailers, called "triples." Their total weight would be around 125,000 pounds.
The trucking industry contends that the larger rigs would provide economies of scale, and thus help hold down fuel and transportation costs. They also note that a not-too-hidden adversary for truckers in this dispute is the US railroad industry, which stands to lose money if the bigger rigs go national.
But the ultimate issue here is not competing transportation systems or economies of scale. It's highway safety. The giant trucks are thought by some critics to be inherently more dangerous than smaller rigs (though available data are inconclusive), and they speed up highway deterioration.
Several bills have been introduced in Congress either to ban or to limit the monster trailers on most interstates. At the least, Congress should honor the status quo. States that allow triple trailers or twin-48s, as in the western US, should be allowed to keep them. But there seems little justification for bringing giant truck-trains into the crowded highway systems of most urban states. Passenger cars have gotten smaller, with lighter frames, even as trucks have gotten bigger. By recognizing the genui n
e concerns of the car-driving public, the US trucking industry will reap gains in long-term goodwill.