CEO Moyes says 97,000-lb weight appears good in theory, but in reality, there will be no fuel savings and safety will be compromised

July 1, 2009
Swift Transportation CEO/chairman Jerry Moyes said he opposes legislation that would raise the commercial truck weight limit to 97,000 pounds.

Swift Transportation CEO/chairman Jerry Moyes said he opposes legislation that would raise the commercial truck weight limit to 97,000 pounds.

Under HR 1799 — the “Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009,” introduced by Rep Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Rep Jean Schmidt (R-OH) on March 30 — individual states would be able to increase allowable weight on a single trailer up to 97,000 lb on their Interstate highways. The vehicles would be required to add a sixth axle to the tractor-trailer for better braking and handling.

Moyes, in his “Perspective: 2009 & Beyond” presentation, said the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) believes that while more weight results in more fuel consumed, increased weight, in theory, would reduce the number of trucks in use and therefore reduce the ton-per mile fuel consumption.

He also said the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) believes that allowing heavier vehicles would decrease truck vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 11%, therefore using less total fuel, and that VMT reductions would also result from increased use of longer combination vehicles (LCV).

Moyes said his real-world experiences tell him that the theories are wrong.

“Swift may be the largest operator of LCVs, so we probably have more statistics on heavy haul than all other truck companies put together,” he said. “They're saying that for every load on highway, if we're going from 45,000 lb to 97,000 lb, we can all of a sudden increase by 33%. I can tell you that in the dry van business, we only have 15-20% of our loads today at 80,000. Most of them are closer to 70,000. It's not going to do a lot of good to increase the weights.

“In the truckload industry, trailers max out on cube space before exceeding load limit. Beer loads are one of the heaviest loads. Because of the axle bridge law, you can only have a 48-foot trailer. You can only put about 55,000 lb in a 48-foot trailer, so by our experience all the way to '97, the math is just not where they think it's going to be. I think this industry has to pick the battles we can win. We think there's no way we're going to get this through.”

Moyes gave additional reasons for opposition:

  • Government regulations

    Many states will restrict routes, resulting in more miles operated.

  • Stopping distance is greater. “Safety should be a #1 priority for the driving public. Even though we have axles and braking capacity on this heavy-haul equipment, our actions are dramatically higher and more severe. As you're putting more weight on, you're going higher. They make these trailers a lot more top-heavy.”

  • Fuel savings. “I can tell you that from our statistics on our amount of fuel per ton-mile we're hauling, we burn more fuel per ton with heavy hauls. You're not going to save any fuel. Adding the sixth axle will add extra weight.”

Moyes said the government's stopping-distance regulations mean fleets will “probably have to go to at least some type of disc brake,” and he challenged manufacturers to offer reasonably priced options.

He said the regulations will mean increased braking performance and result in acquisition-cost implications, potential maintenance-cost reductions, and increased weight on steer and drive axles. He said Swift supports ABS systems.

Moyes also said Swift has worked extensively with a law firm on Critical Event Reporting (CER).

“We can report when a driver has a stopping event or almost turns over,” he said. “When we first got this, we had a pretty high frequency. We started calling the driver immediately. Within a month, we saw these events dramatically decline. These drivers are taking it to heart.”

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.