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Published January 23, 2012, 08:55 AM

Double-deck trailer ban in safety bill

WASHINGTON — Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently included the double-deck trailer ban in S. 1950, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Enhancement Act of 2011.

By: Cindy Schonholtz, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently included the double-deck trailer ban in S. 1950, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Enhancement Act of 2011.

Section 905 of S. 1950 prohibits the transportation of all horses in double-deck trailers, not just those bound for slaughter. This measure currently is waiting for further consideration on the Senate floor. The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will likely mark up its version of the highway bill in early February.

You may be curious why Congress is trying to expand this provision. This issue has been a strong interest of Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill. While Kirk was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, he stated he introduced this legislation after an accident in October, 2007 in Wadsworth, Ill., involving the overturning of a double-deck trailer carrying 59 Belgian draft horses. According to accident reports, the driver ran a red light, causing the accident. Several other accidents cited in background information supporting the ban were caused by driver error. Unfortunate accidents such as this remind those transporting livestock that continued education on transportation safety is vital. The welfare of the livestock we are transporting is our top priority, and we must communicate this fact and not allow special interest groups to destroy our industries.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently regulates the transport of horses to slaughter and recently strengthened those regulations, but there currently are no other federal regulations on horse transportation. Passage of this provision would possibly lead to further restrictions on livestock transportation.

Rodeo stock contractors stand to suffer adverse effects if a ban on transporting in double-deck trailers is imposed. The rodeo industry actively opposes the ban with the following facts:

While transporting horses and all livestock, the main goal should always be the safety of the trailer (headroom, road worthiness, etc.). As with any form of transportation, accidents may happen, and the focus of any potential legislation should be on safe transport, rather than the banning of one specialized form of transportation.

Stock contractors transport rodeo horses in double-deck trailers that are specially ordered or specially modified to safely transport horses. These modifications may include changes made to ramps and doorways to safely accommodate horses.

Rodeo horses must be fit and able to perform when they arrive at their destination. Thousands of horses are successfully hauled each year in specially modified double-deck trucks.

Many stock contractors have one level created with a higher clearance (up to 84 inches). The level with the lower floor to ceiling clearance is used to haul timed event cattle or bulls.

The average height of a horse is approximately 60 inches. Floor to ceiling clearance in most double level trailers used to haul bucking horses range from 71 to 75 inches. This leaves 11 to 15 inches of headroom for the average horse in these modified trailers, more than adequate.

Taller rodeo horses are transported in the single level areas at the front and back of the modified trailers which may have up to nine feet of floor-to-ceiling clearance.

The majority of bucking horses used in professional rodeos today come from breeding programs where they are specifically bred to buck. These horses are conditioned to riding in specially modified double-level trailers from a young age.

We must stand together and educate our representatives in Congress on the negative consequences of this legislation. Start by contacting your elected officials in Congress, and urge them to oppose provisions in the highway bill that prohibit the transport of horses in double-deck trailers.

Editor’s Note: Schonholtz is with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.