It does not take a trucking expert to understand that hauling double trailers takes a lot more skill and finesse than a single. How can drivers haul more freight while reducing crashes? The state of North Dakota plans to have its legislature discuss the topic in January.
The Great Debate
The way things are now in North Dakota, double trailer hauling is prohibited. Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Larry Luick gives his perspective as to why he supports making changes:
“In South Dakota, they can pull a full two doubles, and it has been really frustrating to the drivers from South Dakota that come to North Dakota because we can’t do that in North Dakota. If they want to drop grain in North Dakota, they have to unhook, drop or go and dump the first trailer. Then, they have to come back and unhook, hook onto another trailer and go into North Dakota and dump the second trailer. We can do a lot better.”
Luick wanted to start laying the groundwork for a pilot program in 2020, but cites the pandemic as the reason for holding off until 2021. The problem is compounded by a lack of meetings; North Dakota legislature meets every other year.
To placate the opposition, Luick has a plan to restrict highway usage depending on the number of trailers being hauled. Curvier roads and ones with fewer lanes will have restrictions to the maximum number of trailers, hoping for four in perfectly optimal conditions of flat, straight roads with numerous lanes on each side of the highway.
The idea also has its political opponents. Most notable is the Coalition Against Big Trucks (CABT), an association that describes itself as grassroots.
“Are we willing to compromise the safety of thousands of motorists every day just to haul more freight? Are we willing to spend billions to repair bridges damaged by bigger trucks? Who will pay the price for an 11-percent higher fatal crash rate for multi-trailer trucks? Who will pick up the tab when 97,000-pound trucks only repay 50 percent of their highway damage?” The company reads on its website.
While the debate will rage in North Dakota to join its southern brethren in allowing multi-trailer combinations, the United States federally has no interest in such matters. CABT proudly displays on its website that it has the support of eighty-two different members of the House of Representatives in fighting against size increases.
If states and the federal government want to increase the total tonnage of freight hauled, there are many solutions it could use. One such method would be to increase the allowed amount an individual driver can transport, but that may be damaging to existing infrastructure. A solution to this may be to create semi-public roads that require a permit to use, that would be reserved only for use by road trains with a permit. This would minimize the safety hazards that having more than one trailer could entail, but would require additional infrastructure spending, perhaps even spending that could be spent on infrastructure that is already decaying.
Whatever the case, it seems the total amount of goods being shipped in consistently on the rise, according to various metrics such as those by the American Trucking Association (ATA). If North Dakota approves of road trains and it works out well, it could be a strong argument for the adoption of a similar program on a nationwide scale.