INDIANAPOLIS — A mother is speaking out and sharing her family’s story, as lawmakers are soon to vote on potentially increasing the amount of weight semi-trucks can carry on Indiana roads.
Proponents say this will make traveling more efficient and boost Indiana commerce, while others, including law enforcement, fear the safety risks.
In 2017, Pamela Biddle’s family was in a car crash involving a semi-truck.
“My family didn’t have a chance,” she said. “There was no way out. They were on a bridge in Vigo County.”
Biddle says her son, his father and his girlfriend were stopped behind a flatbed truck carrying steel rods when a semi hit them at 70 miles an hour. Her son Aaron was a talented, compassionate young man who was a nursing student at Purdue University.
“The things that he was going to be able to do,” Biddle said. “He just doesn’t have the chance anymore. And his dad didn’t deserve to die this way or Stephanie. She is a mother of five. They didn’t deserve this.”
On Monday, the state legislature is expected to vote on House Bill 1190, which would allow the state to grant more permits for overweight semi-trucks, carrying 120,000 pounds. Right now, the federal weight limit is 80,000 pounds.
“I understand the desire to be able to haul more weight for the commerce side of things. But I don’t think that that outweighs the safety that’s going to be sacrificed,” Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham said.
Branham has been in law enforcement for 30 years and worked in accident reconstruction for 12 of those. His concern with the heavier weight is not necessarily on the four-lane highways.
“It’s the 30 to 40 mile an hour collision with an 80,000-pound truck versus a 120,000-pound truck,” he said. “The increase in momentum inserted into that equation is significant and significant enough that it’s going to create more injuries, more property damage, and ultimately more fatalities.”
Experts say these trucks have larger blind spots, require longer braking distances and quicken the deterioration of roads and bridges.
“This is already in place,” Gary Langston, Indiana Motor Truck Association president, said. “This has already been happening. We already haul those loads.”
But proponents of the bill point out that trucks carrying specific commodities are already allowed to surpass 80,000 pounds with a permit.
“So this would remove the commodity list and say that anyone who wants to move a product, a divisible load that normally be divided, you can come in, ask us for a permit to haul above 80,000 pounds and we will determine if that’s OK,” Langston said.
Langston said there’s no clear data that shows loads at 120,000 pounds are involved in more crashes than trucks carrying 80,000. He said if companies could haul more weight, this could possibly lead to fewer trucks on the roads.
“Less trucks is less fuel, less equipment, less congestion, and less accidents,” Langston said. “So it’s just as easy to say that will be the outcome.”
Each week, an average of three people die in crashes involving semi-trucks in Indiana.
Biddle’s question to lawmakers is: “Just how many deaths will be acceptable?”
Surrounding states like Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio already allow for heavier loads. Ohio and Kentucky both allow loads up to 120,000 pounds, while Michigan allows for heavy trucks up to 165,000 pounds.