We’re probably all familiar with the problems of driving on damaged roads. When your vehicle hits a particularly serious pothole, it can sometimes cause your tire to flatten or blow out or even cause an axle to break. And then you lose control of your vehicle and wreck. Click the link to read about a nasty 3-vehicle Houston wreck caused by a truck axle breaking and separating from an 18-wheeler.
Many roads and bridges have posted weight limits, but drivers don’t always heed those limits. And the weight of a heavy truck can cause a bridge to fail or a road to crumble, leading to crashes and severe injuries or fatalities. But our Pearland car accident attorneys point out that the damage works both ways. Vehicle weight leads to road damage, which leads to vehicle damage, which leads to accidents, injuries, and sometimes death.
18-wheelers, especially when fully loaded with cargo, cause more road damage than passenger vehicles due to their much greater weight. These trucks, like your car, under normal driving conditions only contact the road on the relatively small contact patches where the tires meet the road. That’s a huge amount of pressure exerted on these contact patches and the roads they travel over.
A study by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) determined that the road damage caused by a single 18-wheeler was equivalent to the damage caused by 9,600 cars. (GAO: Excessive Truck Weight: An Expensive Burden We Can No Longer Afford) The study seems to have based its calculations around the number of axles per vehicle. The study found that essentially, road damage was related to the 4th power of the relative loads. That means that if one vehicle carries a load of 1,500 pounds per axle and another carries a load of 3,000 pounds on each axle, the road damage caused by the heavier vehicle is not twice as much, but 2 to the 4th power as much (2x2x2x2 = 16 times as much road damage as the lighter vehicle).
Or where an 80,000-pound 18-wheeler full of cargo is compared to a 4,000-pound passenger car, the truck is 20 times heavier than the car. But taking the 4th power of the relative loads, the semi would cause 160,000 times more road damage than the car. (But my simple calculation is not taking into account the effect of any weight distribution caused by the greater number of axles on the big rig.)
So let’s compare a passenger car and a bicycle instead, both with two axles. Say the bike and its rider weigh in at 200 pounds, and the car at 4,000 pounds. The weight of the car is also 20 times greater than the bike and rider, and the road damage caused would be 160,000 times greater.
Based on their study, the GAO concluded that “[h]eavy and overweight trucks are a major cause of highway deterioration.” And that their damaging effects make it clear that trucks are the principle cause of traffic related deterioration of the highways. Because of the disproportionate impact of heavier loads on the roadways, just a small percentage of overweight trucks would significantly decrease the useful lifespan of U.S. highways.
The Pearland car accident attorneys at Denena Points, PC note that some truck traffic has already been shifted off the roadways. You may have noticed the long freight trains loaded with endless truck trailers and tankers full of cargo. We doubt that this shift is primarily due to concern for roadway damage. More likely, it is due to the perennial shortage of qualified truck drivers and the greater ease and speed of rail cargo transport. Traditional tractor-trailer trucks must still transport the cargo to or from the rail hub.
In an age of deteriorating highway infrastructure and declining budgets for road upgrades and repairs, the sensible thing to do in order to lengthen the lifespan of our roadways would be to shift even more cargo transport from truck to rail. And more human transport from passenger vehicle to bicycle. But I doubt that this will be happening anytime soon. We’re only just beginning to see a concerted effort to make U.S. urban landscapes more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. And outside of Manhattan, it is simply not practical to function without a passenger vehicle in U.S. cities and towns.
It is almost inevitable that population growth and increasing gridlock will require that we move more cargo transport off the roads and onto rails. The time to begin is now. Waiting to make the shift until it’s too late and the situation is dire only means that quick fixes and inadequate solutions will be put in place, resulting in an almost immediate need for further upgrades and solutions.