The Journal Gazette
Friday, February 26, 2021 1:00 am


Freighted with risk

Increasing trucks' load limits puts all in danger

Kiera Lee-Davis has a “deeply personal reason” to oppose House Bill 1190, legislation that would allow heavier trucks on Indiana roads. In a letter to the editor, the Terre Haute woman explains that her 23-year-old brother and her father were killed in 2017, along with a mother of five, when their car was struck from behind by a truck that failed to slow for an accident along Interstate 70.

Marion County Sheriff Kerry J. Forestal and Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham also oppose HB 1190.

“Unfortunately, we have seen too many truck crashes resulting in senseless tragedy and loss of life,” they wrote in an op-ed column published recently in the Indianapolis Star. “And while many of these crashes are not always the fault of the truck or truck driver, the reality is cars end up the loser upon impact. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 2019 (the last year for which data is compiled), there were 5,164 large truck crashes in Indiana, resulting in 140 deaths. Adding 40,000 pounds to these trucks would only make things worse.”

Ross Marchand of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance offers another reason to oppose the bill. Writing for Inside Indiana Business, he cites the work of Lv15, which creates high-definition maps for self-driving cars.

The organization used more than 15 million pictures taken in multiple states by dash cam apps to determine that Michigan, with highest-in-the-nation gross truck weights, also has some of the worst roads. The analysis ruled out factors such as weather, state construction standards and gasoline tax rates as culprits.

“Attributing blame for infrastructural issues is hardly a science,” Marchand writes. “But the science is clear about the impact of vehicle weight on road quality.”

Those warnings did not sway most members of the Indiana House. In a 57-35 vote, the bill was approved Monday and sent to the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation. Currently, trucks on Indiana roads are limited to loads not exceeding 80,000 pounds, but exceptions are allowed for agricultural loads of up to 97,000 pounds and steel loads of up to 120,000 pounds.

The bill's author, Republican Jim Pressel of Rolling Prairie, said he filed the bill because the General Assembly shouldn't pick winners and losers by regulating which industries can haul overweight loads. There are provisions in his bill to account for potential road damage through an increase in permit fees, but higher fees won't spare motorists from the danger and inconvenience of increased bridge and road damage.

Supporters say the legislation will reduce the number of trucks on Indiana highways; opponents suggest it will mean more, as industries shift freight from trains to trucks.

It will also place motorists at greater risk. Fatal large-truck crashes are at a 10-year high, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The federal agency reports higher crash rates for trucks over 80,000 pounds, as they require longer braking distances and have larger blind spots.

Pressel's bill picks winners and losers with much higher consequences than currently exist. The business interests around which the current session seems to revolve are clear winners; the losers motorists, whose lives are further endangered.

How they voted

House Bill 1190 would allow permits for trucks hauling loads up to 120,000 pounds. 

Yes: Reps. David Abbott, R-Rome City; Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne; Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; David Heine, R-New Haven; Chris Judy, R-Avilla; Matt Lehman, R-Berne; Curt Nisly, R-Goshen; Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn; Dennis Zent, R-Angola

Excused: Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington; Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne

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