Report Summary published in the October-September 2004 issue of the TR News.
Specifically, this book identifies research needs with regard to policies and strategies relating to the use of the transportation system and to assist infrastructure owners in adapting to climate change; focuses on research programs that could provide guidance to officials at all levels responsible for policies that affect the use of surface transportation infrastructure and its operation, maintenance, and construction; and aims to help officials begin to adapt the infrastructure to climate changes that are already occurring or that are expected to occur in the next several decades.
In 1991, Congress placed a freeze on maximum truck weights and dimensions. Some safety groups were protesting against the safety implications of increased truck size and weight, and the railroads were objecting to the introduction of vehicles they deemed to have an unfair advantage. Railroads, unlike trucking firms, must pay for the capital costs of their infrastructure. The railroads contend that large trucks do not pay sufficient taxes to compensate for the highway damage they cause and the environmental costs they generate. Although Congress apparently hoped it had placed a cap on maximum truck dimensions in 1991, such has not proven to be the case.
Carriers operating under specific conditions have been able to seek and obtain special exceptions from the federal freeze by appealing directly to Congress (without any formal review of the possible consequences), thereby encouraging additional firms to seek similar exceptions. In the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, Congress requested a TRB study to review federal policies on commercial vehicle dimensions.
The committee that undertook the study that resulted in Special Report 267 found that regulatory analyses of the benefits and costs of changes in truck dimensions are hampered by a lack of information. Regulatory decisions on such matters will always entail a degree of risk and uncertainty, but the degree of uncertainty surrounding truck issues is uunusually high and unnecessary. The committee concluded that the uncertainty could be alleviated if procedures were established for carrying out a program oof basic and applied research, and if evaluation and monitoring were permanent components of the administration of trucking regulations.
The committee recommended immediate changes in federal regulations that would allow for a federally supervised permit program. The program would permit the operation of vehicles heavier than would normally be allowed, provided that the changes applied only to vehicles with a maximum weight of 90,000 pounds, double trailer configurations with each trailer up to 33 feet, and an overall weight limit governed by the federal bridge formula. Moreover, enforcement of trucks operating under such a program should be strengthened, and the permits should require that users pay the costs they occasion. States should be free to choose whether to participate in the permit program. Those that elected to do so would be required to have in place a program of bridge management, safety monitoring, enforcement, and cost recovery, overseen by the federal government.
The fundamental problem involved in evaluating proposals for changes in truck dimensions is that their effects can often only be estimated or modeled. The data available for estimating safety consequences in particular are inadequate and probably always will be. Thus, the committee that conducted this study concluded that the resulting analyses usually involve a high degree of uncertainty. What is needed is some way to evaluate potential changes through limited and carefully controlled trials, much as proposed new drugs are tested before being allowed in widespread use.
The committee recommended that a new independent entity be created to work with private industry in evaluating new concepts and recommending changes to regulatory agencies. Limited pilot tests would be required, which would need to be carefully designed to avoid undue risks and ensure proper evaluation. Special vehicles could be allowed to operate under carefully controlled circumstances, just as oversize and overweight vehicles are allowed to operate under special permits in many states. Changes in federal laws and regulations would be required to allow states to issue such permits on an expanded network of highways, under the condition that a rigorous program of monitoring and evaluation be instituted.Special Report 269 Summary
Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Fatigue, Long-Term Health and Highway Safety assesses the state of knowledge about the relationship of such factors as hours of driving, hours on duty, and periods of rest to the fatigue experienced by truck and bus drivers while driving and the implications for the safe operation of their vehicles. This report evaluates the relationship of these factors to driversâ€™ health over the longer term, and identifies improvements in data and research methods that can lead to better understanding in both areas.
Some important themes emerge from analysis of this strategy. First, a dual-use approach, in which security objectives are furthered at the same time as other transportation goals, can encourage the implementation of security technologies and processes. Second, modeling could be used more to develop a better understanding of the scope of the security problem. Third, DOT can play an important role in developing and disseminating information about best practices that use existing technologies and processes, including low-technology alternatives. Finally, security should be considered as part of a broader picture, not a wholly new and different problem but one that is similar and closely connected to the transportation community's previous experience in responding to accidents, natural disasters, and hazardous materials.
The committee developed a series of conclusions and recommendations in five areas--the value of the NNR-NE, the state of science and technology supporting naval engineering, the wholeness of the NNR-NE research portfolio, opportunities for enhancement of research and education, and the effectiveness of the NNR-NE initiative.
The report's recommendations are addressed to the administrators of the NNR-NE initiative and of ONR.