Safety Questioned With Truck Weight, Speed Limit, and Toll Increases

by Andrew R. Young | June 13th, 2013

Early this April, Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich signed a $7.6 billion dollar “Transportation and Public Safety Budget” bill. Three controversial topics were considered through the life of this bill’s legislative process: 1) an attempt to increase truck weight limits from 80,000 to 90,000 pounds; 2) an increase in Ohio’s speed limit to 70 mph; and, 3) reallocating and increasing Ohio Turnpike toll rates.

Truck Weight Increase

The Ohio House of Representatives introduced and passed a budget bill that originally included a truck weight limits increase. The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) issued a “Call to Action Alert” on February 27, 2013 to its members via an email issued by OOIDA’s Angel Burnell. Angel’s emailed alert was, in part, as follows:

There is a significant push going on in Columbus to increase permissible weight limits to 90,000 pounds, and maybe more in some instances……The overwhelming majority in trucking figured out long ago there are virtually no benefits to truckers from bigger and heavier, only much higher costs for operation and equipment fees and taxes. Plus, these efforts give every trucker a black eye.

Now would be a really great time to share your thoughts on increased weights with Ohio House and Senate lawmakers in Columbus.

As a member of OOIDA, I answered this Call to Action. I contacted Angel Burnell who directed me to Ryan Bowley, Director of Legislative Affairs for OOIDA. Little did I know that on March 6, 2012, I would be testifying before the Ohio Senate Transportation Committee giving public comments on behalf of OOIDA. My testimony was also on behalf of the members of the Ohio Association for Justice (OAJ), an organization in which I serve as the Chair of the Trucking Safety Section.

My testimony focused on the affect increased load weights would have on the small-business trucker; the negative impacts to Ohio’s infrastructure; and the safety concerns to both professional and ordinary motorists. Please click here to see a full version of the testimony presented before the Ohio Senate Transportation Committee. Several news publications quoted the testimony in their articles about Ohio’s debate over heavier trucks. These articles can be found at the following links: The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Toledo Blade, and Land Lines Magazine.

A concerted effort on behalf of OOIDA, OAJ, railroad officials, the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, Ohio’s State Police Chiefs Group, and others led to the removal of the heavier trucks provision. This removal is evidenced in the comparison document that outlines the original House version of the bill, the changes made and passed by the Senate, and the final version of the bill as reported by the Conference Committee.

Speed Limit Increase

A late addition to Ohio’s Transportation and Public Safety Budget was an increase in Ohio’s posted speed limit to 70 miles per hour. Many trucks have speed limiters that will cause speed disparities between trucks and ordinary motorists. Speed differentials between trucks and other motorists weaving in and around trucks increase the chance of collisions. Unfortunately, the 70 mph speed limit increase was added to the legislation after and without public testimony. I question the logic of the speed limit increase particularly when the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s crash statistics cite unsafe speed and failure to control as the two primary contributing circumstances for traffic fatalities. I am not certain that Ohio should celebrate the idea of increasing speed limits.

Ohio Turnpike Toll Increase

The new budget bill raises turnpike toll rates every year for the next ten years. Historically, the Ohio Turnpike toll revenues were exclusively devoted to the 241-mile toll road. Toll revenues can now be diverted to highway projects within 75 miles of the Turnpike. Moreover, Ohio can borrow against the financial strength of the Ohio Turnpike, potentially quadrupling its debt, to pay for projects elsewhere. In my opinion, as of today’s date, the Ohio Turnpike is an exceptionally maintained highway that allows for fairly easy and comfortable travel. I am concerned that increasing toll rates; leveraging the Ohio Turnpike’s assets; and, diverting toll revenues to other roadways will steer traffic off of the toll road and onto more rural State roadways (one lane in each direction). This could prove unsafe for Ohioans as can be evidenced in a previous GoByTruck article specifically referencing the perils distracted, four-wheeled vehicles face if they are not paying enough attention on open, rural roadways.

One must question whether “Safety” was a consideration on our lawmakers minds when they attempted to pass a bill that increased truck weight limits; included an increase in highway speeds to 70 mph; and, tinkered with Ohio Turnpike toll rates that will likely divert truck traffic to other nearby roadways. Not only do we need to stay alert and focused while driving, but we all must do better staying alert and focused on our lawmakers as they debate and pass future legislation. As motorists, voters, and taxpayers, we all need to make sure that “Safety” remains the number one priority in any Transportation and Public Safety Budget.