Highway bill would make roads more dangerous, critics say

WASHINGTON — With a key vote expected Thursday, the clock is ticking for Congress to pass a highway funding bill. Critics say some parts of it will make the road more dangerous for motorists.

Under the proposals, federal standards would allow tractor-trailers to become longer and heavier. The length of double trailers — or “twin 33s” — could increase from 28 feet to 33 feet. The age requirement for big-rig drivers who cross state lines could be lowered to 18 years old.

The trucking and shipping industries say the new rules will increase productivity, save fuel, and cut costs. But the Truck Safety Coalition and crash victims are lobbying Congress against changes they say would cause more deadly crashes.

In 2013, a tractor trailer slammed into Morgan Lake’s car, pushing it off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Her vehicle plunged 27 feet into the water, but she was able to escape and swim to safety.

Two years later, Lake said it’s time to advocate for those “who can’t speak, who have lost their lives, and to bring change to make highways a lot safer, to make truck drivers a lot safer, as well as people driving around them.”

“I’m one of the lucky ones to be here talking to you today,” Lake said.

Investigators determined the truck driver, Gabor Lovasz, was distracted when he struck Lake’s car.

The National Center for Statistics and Analysis ranked states by the number of truck crash deaths in 2013. Virginia, Maryland, and the District had fewer deaths than the national median.

North Dakota reported the most deaths – more than six times the national median. Wyoming, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and New Mexico rounded out the top five.

The Truck Safety Coalition is also pushing for minimum insurance limits to be raised and for measures that could reduce driver fatigue.

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