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Creating a Crisis

You know you are in the midst of an election season when your apathy for government is at an all-time high. Forget which candidate you will endorse or despise the most, and realize a truth of every future master of the universe: they create a crisis to generate votes. There’s always a kernel of truth sewn into a big bag of rhetoric and exaggeration. Of course, this happens in trucking world too. The article this week will look at one trucking law in Illinois created by a “crisis” and a second “crisis” which is being developed.

Illinois has always lagged in successfully creating new laws to keep up with industry standards for the world of legal weight trucking. One such law is kingpin length for semi-tractor trailers. The goal of this article is not to opine regarding the merits of the kingpin law, but to look at how a recent change came to be when the livestock industry created a crisis.

In short, semi-tractor trailer combinations have a length restriction, depending on which road they are operating, from the kingpin of the semi-trailer to the center of the last trailer axle. Some roads it is 45’6”, on other roads it is 42’6”. In fairness, Illinois is one of the last states with kingpin regulations.

In 2012, the livestock industry created a crisis. They had been manufacturing trailers with fixed axles which exceeded the kingpin limitation in Illinois. Livestock farmers around the state purchased these trailers and began receiving citations for exceeding the length law. It’s no surprise legislation was quickly introduced to exempt livestock trailers from this regulation.

This isn’t a discussion regarding the merits ofwhether or not the General Assembly should or should not have passed a law exempting livestock trailers. The question is whether or not breaking an existing law is the proper way to effect change. The counter-argument is this: don’t buy trailers which are illegal to operate.

Should the speed limit be raised to 90mph because people drive that fast? Should the blood alcohol level be increased to .15 because people will drink that much before driving? Drastic comparisons? Yes, but analogically sound.

In the end, politics ran its course and the livestock exemption passed.

Since you are reading this blog on the internet, you are well aware of the exponential strides computer technologies have made the last ten years. One such market which has seen rapid growth is crash avoidance technology. It’s truly amazing stuff, but most realists see the futility of totally autonomous driving vehicles. A good balance between new technologies assisting attentive human drivers will surely reduce injuries and fatalities on the highway.

However, a crisis is being created to change rules and regulations to benefit the crash avoidance technology industry. There is no doubt these technologies can mitigate crashes, but does that mean these technologies should pre-empt other safety regulations?

The technology industry has lobbied the federal government to mandate their product in new trucks. Truck manufacturers have been offering these as options. One more log on the fire of increasing truck purchase prices.

Crash avoidance technologies rely on cameras and radars to see what is happening around the vehicle. These devices are rendered useless when big, yellow, oversize load signs cover the lenses. Legal size/weight trucking will benefit from crash avoidance technologies, but will the oversize/overweight trucking industry? The tech industry is working hard to get states to change their oversize load sign regulations to accommodate their product. They are creating a crisis.

Here’s some questions for states to ask before they start changing their rules to accommodate profiteering: 1.   Are vehicles operating oversize/overweight really moving at speeds so fast this technology is truly necessary? 2.   Do the safety benefits of crash avoidance technologies exceed the benefits oversize load signs provide by altering other drivers who share the road? 3.   Does moving the yellow oversize load signs higher, lower or removing them altogether actually create a more dangerous environment? 4.   How many serious crashes involving oversize vehicles could have been prevented by this technology?

Through the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the states have been working to harmonize many of their regulations, including content, placement and display of oversize load signs. This artificial “crisis” throws a monkey-wrench into the progress which has been made. Progress on harmonization which has long been desired by the specialized transportation industry.

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