WASHINGTON - Calling them a safety hazard to drivers on the nation's roads, the Teamsters and several safety groups and advocates opened a campaign on May 3 against the truck lobby's plans to put extra-large rigs on U.S. roads.
Teamsters President James Hoffa, longtime safety advocate Joan Claybrook, and former House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar and their allies aim to stop the 97,000-pound double and triple tractor trailers from roaming the highways.
Their drive is fueled by a combination of economics and personal tragedies; stories from relatives of dead motorists who lost loved ones in extra big rig crashes. "When I look in the rear view mirror, I don't want to see that big thing with a tired driver bearing down on me," Hoffa added.
Advocates and families fanned out over Capitol Hill after a press conference highlighting their aim: To insert in the pending highway bill both a ban on the enormous rigs and a requirement for automatic time and mileage recorders in truck cabs.
It may be an uphill battle, Oberstar said, but they have to try, just to get the issue on the table. Instead, he predicted Congress would again extend the highway bill for a short time, unchanged - and without a ban on the extra big rigs.
Without a ban, Hoffa and his allies say, big trucking companies and independent truck owner-operators - paid based on how much they haul for the maximum amount of mileage, regardless of safety or driver exhaustion - would run wild over highway safety.
"Since 1948, cars have gotten smaller - they're half the size they were then - and trucks are twice the length and twice the weight," Hoffa said, referring to the present 80,000-pound weight limit on big rigs.
The trucking lobby wants to raise it to 97,000 pounds. Hoffa noted that Mexican trucks entering the U.S. - another cause the Teamsters oppose - could be up to 120,000 pounds.
"The stopping distance of an 80,000-pound truck is 355 feet. That's the length of a football field. Try getting across the street when one is bearing down on you," he said. "A 97,000-pound truck would only be more hazardous," he added.
The Teamsters can still enforce rules of the road - such as limiting the size and weight of trucks and the hours drivers spend behind the wheel - in their contracts. But the 1.4-million-member union's drivers are not a majority in the industry. That led Hoffa and his allies to advocate uniform rules for all trucks and truckers, union and nonunion.
The families raised that issue at the press conference and with Obama administration Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He responded positively, they said.