Will Truck Accident Rates Be Affected By Higher Weight Limits?

There was opposition to a proposal to raise truck weight limits on the Ohio Turnpike, according to a story in the Toledo Blade. Proponents of increased weight limits argued that it would save fuel, spur economic development, and bring Ohio in line with other states with higher weight limits.

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Opponents say that longer and heavier trucks will increase road maintenance costs and result in more severe accidents. The legislation would increase the weight limit from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds and the length allowed from 40 to 50 feet.

It would also increase the ability of oversize trucks to leave the Turnpike and travel on secondary roads. And this is an issue for a County engineer in Medina. Mike Salay pointed out that having heavier trucks on secondary roads is not just expensive because the damage they cause to secondary must be repaired. Just as important, he says, is that that damage they cause can then cause other accidents.

Secondary roads are just not designed to handle trucks of this size, he says. Potholes and other pavement damage can pop up overnight, causing motor vehicle accidents before road crews even know a problem exists.

Those that argue that increasing truck weight limits will benefit Ohio’s economy do not appreciate even the short term costs. For example, the load-bearing capacity of all bridges affected by the proposed change will need to be reviewed.

According to Frederick B. Pausch, executive director of the County Engineers Association of Ohio, Michigan has even higher weight limits – up to 164,000 pounds – and the bridges and roads in that state are in even worse condition than those in Ohio. One in five bridges in Ohio currently needs some level of repair.

According to a lobbyist with Ohio AAA, larger, longer trucks require greater stopping distances, increasing the risk of serious accidents. According to Ric Oxender, “Bigger, heavier trucks and public safety are like oil and water ….”

There are over 500,000 truck accidents in the United States each year, with around 5,000 fatalities. In almost all cases, the drivers of the other vehicles are the people killed.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, truck accidents caused 9,319 accidents in 2011. Of these accidents, 70 caused 79 deaths, 1,845 accidents caused injuries to 1,986 people, and 7,404 resulted in property damage only.

Update: In part because of concerns such as those discussed here, the provisions regarding increased weight loads for trucks were removed from the bill, which subsequently passed and was signed into law in early April by Ohio Governor John Kasich.