This news story originally provided by The Lexington Herald-Leader
October 9, 2005
Crackdown on truck weights a success
Enforcing limits saves lives, so get rid of coal haulers' exemption
How many lives were lost because past administrations let the coal industry break truck-weight laws?
That heartbreaking question demands an answer now that the Fletcher administration's crackdown on overweight coal trucks appears to be saving lives and averting injuries.
We would like to see a long-term statistical study, but just the year-to-year comparison is compelling: While fatalities and accidents involving heavy trucks climbed statewide, the numbers declined in the eastern coalfields.
Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement reports that from June 2004 through May 2005, there were 17 fewer deaths and 47 fewer accidents in Eastern Kentucky involving heavy trucks than in the previous 12 months.
That's a 42 percent decrease in fatalities. The obvious explanation: Truckers and even coal companies are being ticketed for overweight loads, so they are hauling less coal per trip.
The coal industry hasn't collapsed. Truckers' kids aren't going hungry. In fact, some of the loudest applause is coming from truckers relieved to no longer be wrestling deadly loads on steep mountain roads.
Not only are the lighter loads easier to control, they also produce less wear on brakes, tires and other parts that quickly gave out under the gross overloads of yore.
It was not unusual for coal trucks to tip the scales at 220,000 pounds, as much as a fully loaded rail car. Then the new Vehicle Enforcement regime, led by Commissioner Greg Howard, started handing out citations -- something that had been unheard of. And lives were saved.
This is an achievement of which Gov. Ernie Fletcher, first Republican governor in 30 years, can be proud.
It remains a mystery exactly how, why and by whom the law was ever unofficially suspended. Whether the responsible parties ever become known, they have blood on their hands. In a just world, they'd have to face the survivors of those who needlessly died under overloaded coal trucks.
And that raises another question: How many more lives could be saved if coal abided by the same rules as other truckers?
Since 1986, Kentucky's coal industry has enjoyed a legal exemption from the 80,000-pound weight limit that applies to everyone else. Kentucky's extended-weight law allows coal trucks to legally haul up to 126,000 pounds.
Common sense tells us that 46,000 extra pounds increases stopping distance, diminishes a trucker's ability to avoid accidents and puts other motorists at risk of misjudging distances and rear-ending a slow-moving coal truck.
Coal trucks also produce excessive damage, making roads and bridges more hazardous and astronomically increasing repair costs to taxpayers.
Kentuckians have paid long enough for the coal industry's special
treatment. It's time to end the weight-limit exemption and let coal
trucks play by the same rules as everyone else.