Guest Opinions

Statesman misses point of truck debate

The bigger picture in this debate is about the right loads on the right routes with the safest outcome, it is not about taking sides as the Statesman’s Nov. 1, editorial suggests.

If the safe and efficient movement of freight in Idaho is about taking sides — and as long as community voices are characterized as having to do so — we will only continue to argue about whose side we should be on and never solve the problem. The reason we are even talking about the issue of larger loads is the American public’s ever-increasing demands on the movement of goods and products to support a healthy economy and a prosperous lifestyle.

Though the trucking industry is an integral part of meeting the public’s demands for full grocery-store shelves, clothing racks and gaming products, it is safety that is paramount. To suggest something different ignores that the industry is actually our family and friends. To tell your readers that a professional driver — especially one who is hauling a longer combination vehicle such as a 129,000-pound vehicle and likely has more accident-free miles than your average passenger car driver will have in a dozen lifetimes — and a legally permit-able load are cause to “hold your breath” or “suspend reality” is nothing short of fear-mongering.

Nothing involving any commercial load can be overlooked. Not the compliance with the Federal hours of service rules; not the pre-trip inspection that ensures everything from brakes to the light over the trailer plate is in good working order; not the rules governing holding a commercial driver’s license that require drug tests and have very little wiggle room in a driving record or there is the threat of revocation.

Add that to the knowledge that each load is often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the vehicle and the cargo and that the goal is for everyone to get home safely at the end of the day: something where the cost cannot even be counted.

So if we really want to have a discussion about the legitimate part of this debate — the safe and efficient movement of freight — and can get past the arm-waving, we should first consider that an arbitrary federal freeze with no rhyme or reason left Idaho without the option to consider moving larger loads on the interstate system. With that option removed, next consider if 1,750 loads (fewer trucks) with a lighter footprint (less impact on infrastructure) has merit when weighed against 2,187 loads (6 times per day vs. 4). We should also look at the routes, alternatives and potential impacts to the communities.

Unfortunately, none of that is possible after we have already scared ourselves into a “not in my back yard” answer. In fact, the Statesman’s editorial doesn’t even encourage collaboration on what should be important to everyone. Joint efforts to more safely and efficiently move freight might lead to public/private partnerships as they did in Gooding with a two-mile stretch of road being improved for everyone’s benefit. They might lead to lifting the freeze on the interstate system and move more truck traffic off local and state roads to the more robust national network. They might lead to innovations and real solutions that keep the public safe.

Unfortunately, it is hard to collaborate when you use fear to obscure the big picture and just take sides.

Alan Ginkel is vice president of Western Transport Inc. and chairman of the board of the Idaho Trucking Association.