While Colorado firefighters and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel often face tremendous obstacles and circumstances, the pledge we make as first responders is that we will always give our greatest effort, no matter the challenge.
We know that first responders across the country feel the same way. That is why we are concerned with proposals in Washington, D.C., that would threaten public safety.
We are referring to the handful of shipping companies that want to increase the weight and length of tractor-trailers nationwide. While we already have some of these bigger trucks operating in Colorado, the proposals under consideration in Congress could mean that kind of heavy-truck traffic increases tenfold, weaving through our towns and communities.
Consider all of the trucks carrying produce east from California or the rigs hauling big-box store freight on U.S. Highway 160. Those trucks typically weigh 80,000 pounds, the standard for tractor-trailers. Consider if those trucks weighed 91,000 pounds, a 5.5–ton increase.
That would mean trouble for our motorists.
One of the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District teams responded to a tragic scene last year. A truck collided head-on with a passenger vehicle, unfortunately, leading to one person losing their life and two others being hospitalized. It was the largest crash scene the department responded to all year, and it required the highway to be closed for seven hours and traffic to be diverted to State Highway 151.
In addition, heavy equipment had to be brought to the scene to disassemble the truck to fully extinguish it.
Whenever you respond to a scene so catastrophic, you hope for your community that it is the last one. Making trucks heavier will not advance that goal.
As first responders, we know from experience that the more trucks weigh, the more likely they are to have brake problems that lead to more collisions and more severe crashes. Research backs up our professional experience.
A report published last year from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) found in state testing that heavier trucks experience significantly higher crash rates. The report also determined that these trucks have higher out-of-service brake violation rates.
Another study last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that a truck with any brake violation was over three times more likely to be involved in a collision.
We want fewer crashes and safer roads, but increasing the weight of tractor-trailers would only create more problems.
And if these highway safety concerns are not enough, consider the impacts heavier tractor-trailers have on our infrastructure. The USDOT report determined that allowing truck weights to increase to 91,000 pounds would incur up to $1.1 billion in additional bridge costs; raising limits to 97,000 pounds would double those costs.
Considering over half of all bridges statewide are in fair or poor condition, according to the Federal Highway Administration, raising truck weights is a step in the wrong direction for our infrastructure.
We are proud to live and work in the rural West. We have dedicated our careers to protecting the public and responding to emergencies. This proposal is the antithesis of that mission and instead endangers the public.
Members of Congress need to hear from you. They need to know that increasing the number of heavier trucks on our highways does not align with our way of life.
Please contact our congressional delegation and tell them to put a stop to this proposal.
Jeff Vandevoorde is chief of the Cortez Fire Protection District. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 565-3157. Bruce Evans is fire chief of the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District and a leader of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. Reach him at email@example.com or (970) 884-9508.