Just When You Thought It Was Safe

  Just When You Thought It Was Safe - October 18, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

From Duel, the 1971 made for TV thriller of a terrified motorist stalked by a mysterious tanker truck, to Bridge of Spies, the 2015 silver screen account of Cold War espionage, Steven Spielberg’s film resume may be unrivaled.

He took us on close encounters with E.T. and Indiana Jones and helped us save Private Ryan and meet Mr. Schindler. We have gone back to the future to the land before time with Jake and Elroy Blues to frame Roger Rabbit, visited poltergeists, gremlins and men in black traveling much more than a one hundred foot journey to places like Jurassic Park.

Nothing made us inspect our bathtubs for shark infestation like Spielberg’s 1975 cinema thriller, Jaws, even though the catch line from Jaws 2 previews, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into water,” had more lasting impact than the 1978 sequel itself.

Now Congress is giving new meaning to that warning. No sooner had the governor signed legislation authored by Rep. Scott Inman (D-Del City) to make children’s lives safer, a congressman filed a resolution that opens the door to allowing the weight of trucks to increase from 40 to nearly 46 tons.

Inman’s bill becomes effective November 1. It follows the child car seat safety recommendations of the American Pediatric Association and will save the lives of Oklahoma children.

Now, just when we thought it was going to be safe to take our kids on road trips, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) introduced H.R. 3488, called the “SAFE Trucking Act.” With a goal of increasing the maximum weight of trucks from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds, it is anything but safe.

Based on an USDOT study conducted in Washington state, the proposed weight increase will make brake failure more common, will cause a 47-percent higher crash rate and cost us more than $1 billion in additional bridge repair expenses.

Proponents of larger and heavier trucks would have you believe that the traffic would be limited to Interstates and other major highways. The facts show otherwise. Local roads comprise 95% of our nation’s roads and every year large trucks travel 50 billion miles on those local roads. Couple that with the fact that 36% of the bridges on those local roads are more than 50 years old and 66 percent of the bridges owned by local cities and towns are classified as “structurally deficient.”

Local roads are also the most likely to have narrow lanes, limited shoulders, sharp curves and steep hills.  Add it up and you get a traffic fatality rate that is nearly 300 percent higher than all other roads according to a 2014 TRIP report. From 2009 to 2013, more than 500 Oklahomans were killed in accidents involving large truck crashes.

The USDOT study showed that increasing the weight of a heavy truck by only 10 percent increases bridge damage by 33% and although proponents say that increasing the weight will result in fewer trucks, the study shows that allowing heavier trucks will result in rail freight being diverted to our highways.

The very industries that are destroying our roads receive millions of dollars of tax cuts and tax credits. Consequently, we do not have funding to repair our roads. We don’t need Spielberg to tell us that it’s not safe to come out of the pothole and increasing legal truck weight by nearly 15% is not the answer.

David may be reached at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.