A group of Dallas deputies is weighing in on a new federal debate about changing the weight limits on big-rig trucks.
Congressional transportation committees are expected to tackle trucking industry regulations in upcoming months, and members are hearing from industry experts and law enforcement officers about loosening restrictions.
The two biggest proposals are to allow trucks to haul more cargo, and to lengthen double-trailers from the current 28 feet limit up to 33 feet. That adds an extra 10 feet of length to a big rig set-up.
Dallas County Sheriff’s Office has a highly-trained team of deputies called the Commercial Vehicle Inspection Unit. Dozens of times every day, the team of eight deputies inspects commercial trucks, checks safety and driving logs, and weighs big rigs using portable scales.
"Fines can range from a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand, it really depends on how much over the limit these trucks are. Some trucks are way up there, so it really depends. It's something we deal with every day," said Deputy John Hurt.
Deputies are well aware of the growing debate about loosening federal restrictions so that trucks can carry up to 90,000 pounds-- a 13% increase from the current limit of 80,000 pounds.
“Something needs fixing on most trucks we stop,” Deputy John Hurt said. “So I start with that in my mind when you're asking about adding even more weight."
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A commercial vehicle stop can take anywhere from 25 minutes to more than two hours. Deputies check the weight using several portable scales weighing 40 pounds each.
Sergeant Daniel Plumer believes there's a safety risk in allowing trucks to be even heavier.
"The damage that the excessive weight causes to the roadways, that damage itself is pretty tough on our infrastructure," he said. "Potholes open up and the road starts to break down, and there's a danger to that for all vehicles."
"And then, it's obvious that the heavier the vehicle, the more damage involved when a collision does occur."
Deputies say federal rules limits single-trailer trucks to a total weight of 80,000 pounds.
Some industry groups want to see longer trailers and weight limits increased by 13 percent.
They argue that bigger trucks with more cargo will reduce the overall number of trucks on Texas interstates, and that's good for public safety.
These deputies think the risk outweighs the reward.
"The heavier the weight the more kinetic energy you have in a crash, the more dangers to our citizens," Plumer said.
There's also the unproven question on if bigger loads equals fewer interstate shipments and thus fewer trucks.
"I can see that being true in the short-term, I can see that side of it," Plumer said, "But the number of truck will eventually go right back up.”
The Commercial Vehicle Enforcement team hopes the debate brings new appreciation for the job they do.
“There’s no such thing as a fender bender with an 18-wheeler,” Hurt said.