That a state highway-safety official was quoted as at least partially attributed Maine recording a 70-year low in highway fatalities to a specific reform of truck-weight rules is welcome news to the Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), a group lobbying to increase the federal vehicle weight limit on interstate highways.

Maine incurred 131 highway fatalities in 2014, the fewest since 119 such deaths occurred in 1944, when wartime fuel and tire ration was in effect, per Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. The state recorded 154 fatal accidents in 2012 and 136 in 2011.

A news report posted by Nok-Noi Ricker of the Bangor Daily News stated that James Tanner, fatal accident system analyst for the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, said that one factor that “may have helped to make roads safer” is the Congressional provision that authorizes operating tractor-trailers with six axles rated up to 100,000-lbs GCW on all interstate highways in Maine for 20 years.

“Commercial vehicle related fatalities dropped in 2014 to 10 fatalities compared to 18 in 2013,” Tanner related, per Ricker’s news story. “Maine averaged 16.2 commercial vehicle related crash fatalities from 2009 to 2013. Overall, Maine has experienced a decrease in the number of commercial vehicle related fatalities from 2009 when we experienced 23 commercial vehicle related fatalities.”

The weight-reform measure, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and supported by Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT-D), was worked into the federal transportation bill passed by Congress in late 2011. The 20-year deal also applies to Vermont.

For its part, CTP contends that “more states could experience the same improvements in safety and efficiency under the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA).”  

That legislation, which has been pending before Congress for some time now, would grant each state the option to open all or portions of its interstate highways to heavier trucks that are equipped with six axles.

SETA, introduced by Reid Ribble (R-WI) and Michael Michaud (D-ME) as H.R. 612, would give each state the option to set interstate weight limits of up to 97,000 lbs. But this higher limit would only apply to trucks equipped with six axles vs. the typical five.

According to CTP, having that additional axle “maintains safety specifications – including stopping and handling capabilities and current weight per tire-- without making the truck any larger.”

Furthermore, per the lobbying group, SETA would allow shippers to better utilize space in each truck and use fewer trucks to meet demand— and that “would make roads safer, especially as the U.S. economy and population grows.”

“The experience in Maine proves that targeted, sensible truck weight reform will not only make highways more efficient, but it will save lives,” stated John Runyan, executive director of CTP. 

“It’s a fact that many interstate highways are safer and better engineered for heavy traffic, and that allowing properly equipped heavier trucks to access the interstate will provide a more efficient route while helping to avoid traffic lights, crosswalks, school crossings and other potential hazards,” he continued.

Runyan also argued that “Modernizing truck weights saved lives in Maine, and if Congress allows all states to enact higher interstate truck weight limits, we will undoubtedly experience safety improvements nationwide.”

He noted that more than 40 states already allow heavier trucks on state roads and if SETA was enacted, “they would be given the option to transition heavier trucks equipped with safe six-axles to the interstate.

“Targeted truck weight reform outlined in the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act made sense in Maine, and it makes sense for many other states,” Runyan added.