A dangerous highway bill
May 21, 2010
From the most innocuous amendments to more controversial items, significant legislative changes with significant consequences can be tacked onto large bills and passed without regard for the resulting ramifications.
Not surprisingly, this scenario unfolded this year in Tallahassee. Afraid of public debate and input, special interests worked diligently to include a proposed change that was hidden within an all-encompassing transportation mandate bill (House Bill 1271). This bill was unfortunately passed by lawmakers on the last day of the session.
The change I speak of would raise maximum allowable truck weights to 88,000 pounds, putting Floridians in danger and damaging Florida's already strained transportation infrastructure system.
The dangers of increasing tractor-trailer truck weights are well known. Heavier trucks are harder to stop and maneuver, as well as more susceptible to rollover, representing a serious threat to safety on Florida's congested roads and highways.
In recent years similar legislation was always withdrawn or defeated following public outcry and opposition from safety advocates, law enforcement officials and emergency response professionals. But this year special interests quietly got what they wanted, and now the people's governor has an opportunity to stop it.
The most definitive study ever conducted on the safety impacts of heavier trucks, the 2000 U.S. Department of Transportation Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study, found that adding weight to existing trucks makes them more prone to rollover, increases crash risk and makes it more likely that when crashes do occur, they will be fatal.
This study also catalogued the huge increases in highway and bridge damage that come with heavier big rigs. In fact, a recent fiscal impact report by the Florida Department of Transportation found this truck weight increase will add millions of dollars to Florida's already extensive highway maintenance deficit.
More than $150.7 million annually will have to be shelled out by local and state governments to compensate for the infrastructure damage that will result from heavier trucks.
To add insult to injury, it is Florida taxpayers who are forced to pay for much of that damage, amounting to a subsidy for heavy truck operations.
By far the most important and compelling objection to heavier trucks is the fact that they will cause more deaths and injuries on our highways. This is a bad idea, and it must be stopped. Floridians should not stand for this type of backroom legislating.
There is not much time left to stop this dangerous and unwise change in state highway safety laws. I urge Floridians to call the governor and ask him to veto this bill.
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