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September 30, 2014

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Nevada advocates lobby Washington to oppose bigger trucks on roadways

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Jackie Valley

The goal of the Nevada Highway Patrol’s Badge on Board program is to reduce crashes involving commercial trucks and passenger vehicles.

Could the commercial trucks we share our highways with be getting bigger?

Congress is mulling an idea to allow bigger and heavier semitrailers on American roads. There’s nothing set in stone yet, but the idea floating around Capitol Hill has transportation safety and law enforcement advocates worried enough to fly out to Washington, D.C., and try to convince lawmakers otherwise.

Two Nevada advocates are part of the delegation talking to lawmakers in Washington this week. They say the state has seen its fair share of traffic accidents and fatalities from big trucks.

In 2012, 450 crashes and 18 deaths in Nevada were tied to big trucks, said Richard Tiran, the president of the Peace Officers Research Association of Nevada.

“That’s 18 fatalities too many,” he said.

Tiran and Axel James, president of the Nevada Highway Patrol Association, recited those statistics to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the staff of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., when they advocated against a proposal that could be attached to a transportation bill Congress must pass this summer.

On Interstate 15 and other highways in and around Las Vegas, drivers are typically confronted with 28.5-foot-long trucks pulling two trailers. But lawmakers are considering allowing those double-trailer trucks to extend 10 feet longer and allowing single, 53-foot trailers to increase by 17 feet.

Public safety advocates point to studies from the Department of Transportation that tie longer and heavier trucks to higher fatal crash rates. They also say heavier trucks help deteriorate roads.

Already in Nevada, drivers are swerving around blown tires from big trucks, stuck in traffic jams caused by truck crashes and gripping their steering wheel every time they see a big truck take a turn near them, James said.

“People are starting to experience that and pay a lot more attention to it, and they’re saying, ‘That thing is way too big to be on the road,’ ” James said.

It’s not clear whether a provision to expand truck sizes would get through both chambers of Congress. Rep. Dina Titus, a Las Vegas Democrat, said she’s opposed to the idea because of the cost on public safety and infrastructure. She’d want to make sure the big trucks pay their fair share.

Reid left his options open. James and Tiran said Reid asked to see national data on accidents and fatalities related to big trucks.

Reid’s spokeswoman, Kristen Orthman, said in a statement: “Sen. Reid’s top priority is protecting and strengthening public safety.”

James said lawmakers can’t ignore the size of trucks we share our roads with. Drivers certainly don’t have that luxury anymore, he added.

“Something needs to be done,” he said. “Someone has to step up and bring it to the attention of all those who drive.”

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