Update: On July 1, 2020, the Horse Transportation Safety Act passed the US House of Representatives as part of an infrastructure package.
Hauling horses in double-deck trailers is dangerous and inhumane. These trailers do not provide sufficient headroom for horses to stand upright. They often endure long journeys in cramped positions and suffer serious injuries as a result. To address this problem, the bipartisan Horse Transportation Safety Act would amend Title 49 of the US Code to prohibit the transportation of horses in interstate commerce in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another.
Tragic accidents resulting in the death and injury of numerous horses have raised questions about the highway safety and animal welfare aspects of transporting horses in double-deck trailers. A horrific accident several years ago involving a double-deck tractor trailer carrying 59 Belgian draft horses through Wadsworth, Illinois, was the impetus behind federal legislation to end this inhumane and unsafe form of transportation. The crash was so severe that it took more than five hours before authorities could free the suffering horses from the mangled truck. Sadly, 19 horses died from the crash.
The potential for catastrophic accidents is not the only inhumane aspect of these trailers, however. Even absent such wrecks, the use of these trailers can lead to serious injuries of horses during transport—a point on which humane organizations, veterinary associations, and the US Department of Agriculture agree. According to the USDA:
Double-deck trailers do not provide adequate headroom for equines, with the possible exception of foals and yearlings. We do not believe that trailers that have two or more permanent levels that are not collapsible can be adequately altered to accommodate adult equines, especially tall equines. A tall equine can be 8 feet tall to the top of its head when standing on all four legs and close to 12 feet tall when rearing.
… We do not believe that equines can be safely and humanely transported on a conveyance that has an animal cargo space divided into two or more stacked levels. (9 CFR Parts 70 and 88).
- Double-deck trailers are designed for much shorter livestock such as cattle and hogs, not horses.
- The USDA has expressed opposition to the transport of horses on double-deck trailers and issued regulations prohibiting their use entirely under the agency’s policy governing the transport of equines to slaughter.1 The Horse Transportation Safety Act would provide protections covering the movement of all horses, not just those bound for slaughter.
- The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)2 and the National Agriculture Safety Database (NASD)3 have recommended ceiling heights no lower than 7'–8' to transport horses safely, while average double deck trailer ceiling heights range from 4'7"–5'11". It is also important to note that the US Department of Transportation4 only requires bridges to have a vertical clearance of 14'–16' in rural and urban areas, making it impossible to build or modify a trailer large enough to humanely transport equines on two levels.
Several states have passed legislation banning the transport of horses in double-deck trailers, but there is currently no federal prohibition so this inhumane practice continues. The Horse Transportation Safety Act amends Title 49 of the US Code to prohibit the transportation of horses in interstate commerce in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another.
1. USDA Slaughter Horse Transport Program: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/09/07/2011-22762/commercial-transportation-of-equines-to-slaughter
2. AVMA: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Humane-Transport-of-Equines.aspx
3. NASD: http://nasdonline.org/document/1047/d000842/horse-trailer-maintenance-and-trailering-safety.html
4. DOT FHA: http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/geometric/pubs/mitigationstrategies/chapter3/3_verticalclearance.htm