Trailerbodybuilders 1375 Editorial Image 1

The dirty little secret buried in the new greenhouse gas regulation

Sept. 5, 2016
Environmentalists, of course, liked the idea that trucks soon will be sending lower amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Yes, there will be up-front costs to truck and trailer customers as a result of this rule, but

When the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it had completed the final rule governing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency for trucks and trailers in August, the reaction was generally positive.

Environmentalists, of course, liked the idea that trucks soon will be sending lower amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Some truck fleets, truck manufacturers, and suppliers applauded the regulation because it is expected to reduce fuel costs. Yes, there will be up-front costs to truck and trailer customers as a result of this rule, but the theory is that these costs will be completely paid in a year or two with the money saved at the diesel pump.

Cool. A federal regulation that provides a benefit and pays for itself. What’s there not to like about a rule like that?

Here’s one thing: People will die because of this rule.

What? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wouldn’t team up with EPA to develop a rule that makes highways more dangerous... would they?

Read for yourself. Beginning on Page 356, the rule cites some of the comments regulators received from the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association during the public comment period. TTMA argued that adding these fuel-saving devices will increase the weight of the trailer. To avoid being overloaded, fleets will need to make more trips. And these additional trips, TTMA argues, will increase the likelihood of traffic accidents and fatalities. Using government figures to calculate fatalities per vehicle mile traveled, TTMA estimated that this new rule will lead to the deaths of seven people annually.

Wrong, the regulators responded (top of Page 357). This regulation won’t kill more than about three people every year.

Three fatalities. Maybe seven. While no one knows for sure, we do know that safety is a function of exposure to risk. If no one rides in a hot air balloon, the risk of dying in a hot air balloon crash is zero. But with enough exposure, someone eventually will strike a power line—with catastrophic results. The same holds true on the highway. Phase 2 will increase exposure.

Let’s take a closer look at the analysis. According to TTMA, the new regulation will add 250 pounds to the average trailer, enough to cause fully loaded trailers to exceed legal weight limits. The freight still needs to be shipped, and it will require extra trips to do so. While not every trailer leaves the dock loaded to the max, there are enough that do to require trucks to travel an additional 184 million miles annually, TTMA figures.

What can we expect from this additional exposure? Based on an assumed crash rate of 134 collisions per 100 million vehicle miles traveled and a 3% fatality rate per crash, TTMA estimates 246 traffic accidents will occur in the course of driving the extra 184 million miles. Seven people will die as a result.

The regulators approach it differently. Citing Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stats, the agencies calculate that three people will die because of the additional miles this rule will cause.

Undoubtedly some will dispute the possibility of these deaths, and others might argue that GHG Phase 2 could save more lives than it will snuff out. They could say that the rule will make the world a cleaner place in which to live, and they might point to computer models to support their argument.

But there on Pages 356 and 357 of this final rule, federal employees use federal numbers to argue that their federal regulation will only kill three people per year. Compared with computer models, that argument is far more believable, immediate, and troubling.

It doesn’t have to be this way. While size and weight regulations fall outside the authority of EPA and NHTSA, the weight of these devices should be exempt at weigh stations—just as auxiliary power units currently are. This would eliminate 184 million extra miles of truck travel—along with the accidents, injuries, and fatalities resulting from this additional exposure to risk.

Three people. Seven people. Why should even one person die because of a federal regulation?

About the Author

Bruce Sauer | Editor

Bruce Sauer has been writing about the truck trailer, truck body and truck equipment industries since joining Trailer/Body Builders as an associate editor in 1974. During his career at Trailer/Body Builders, he has served as the magazine's managing editor and executive editor before being named editor of the magazine in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.