If we've learned anything from the stock market's collapse, it should be this: You can't let emotions drive business decisions. Investors who lost sight of the fundamental principles of stock value in the late '90s and made buy/sell decisions based on knee-jerk, emotional reactions were the ones with the long faces when the bubble burst.
In some ways, our industry faces the same dangers when it comes to the controversy surrounding the use of longer combination vehicles, or LCVs. Longer combination vehicles are tractor-trailer combinations with two or more trailers that weigh more than 80,000 pounds. These rigs generally come in three varieties: the Rocky Mountain Double (one 48-foot trailer connected to one 28-foot trailer), the Turnpike Double (two 48-foot trailers) and the Triple Trailer (three 28-footers).
In 1991, when Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), it authorized the use of LCVs, but only in those states where they were already in use.As a result,one type of LCV or another is currently allowed on designated routes in the following 23 states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri,Montana,Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. In all other jurisdictions, they're banned.
But that could change soon. Traditionally, amendments to authorize their expansion or restrict their use have been bolted onto highway and other infrastructure funding legislation. Now that a new transportation infrastructure bill has appeared on the congressional docket, factions on both sides of the LCV debate are preparing for battle.
LCV opponents base their arguments on the detrimental effects of LCV use on safety and traffic congestion as well as increased wear and tear on the highw ays. (Interestingly, most of the funding for the anti-LCV groups comes from the rail industry, which views LCVs as a competitive threat.) When attempting to rally support, the anti-LCV groups typically rely heavily on emotionalism, running TV and print ads showing devastating highway accidents, often involving young mothers and their kids in a car and an inattentive truck driver pulling an LCV.
These ads tug at the average motorist's heart strings. None of us cherishes the moments we spend traveling alongside a big truck. The realists among us, though, recognize that motor freight transportation plays a vital role in our economy and affects our quality of life.
The realists, we hope, will also consider the facts. In the (admittedly few) instances where LCVs have been in use for a long period and their safety performance has been tracked, they've fared considerably better than conventional, single-trailer rigs. In Ohio, for instance, where LCVs are allowed on the Ohio Turnpike, LCVs average one accident every 1.48 million miles. Rigs featuring the more standard tractor/trailer configurations, on the other hand, are involved in accidents every 1.06 million miles.
Also consider that every LCV you see on the road means one less tractor is needed to tow that freight. That means less energy is required, fewer toxic emissions are released into the environment, and the highways experience less wear and tear and congestion.
Since the motor carrier industry was deregulated 23 years ago, highway service has sometimes been treated as a commodity buy, forcing carriers to compete by slashing rates. Truckers have come to rely on productivity improvements to remain viable. Denying them the opportunity to use LCVs could force some to close their doors altogether.
By authorizing widerranging use of LCVs, Congress will make the motor freight industry more productive. It will make our highways safer and less congested. It will make the air cleaner.
We can only hope that the facts will outweigh the emotionalism that the anti-LCV groups will try to inject into the debate. In this matter, it's important that we keep our heads about us.