Legislative update

Senior Editor

New Jersey
AB1092, authored by Assemblymen Wilfredo Caraballo and Anthony Impreveduto, creates strict liability and criminal sanctions for owners of heavy-duty of diesel trucks involved in fatal crashes. Under the provisions of the bill, the owner of a heavy-duty diesel truck involved in (not necessarily at fault in) a fatal crash, and operating in violation of state or federal safety or operating standards, would be guilty of a crime in the second degree. This means five to ten years in jail and/or a fine of up to $150,000.

Is there any defense for a truck owner? Not under this bill. The bill states that the actions of the driver or the actions of a fatality victim are not a defense. In other words, if someone in a car crossed a median, hit a truck head-on, and died as a result, the owner of the truck would still be guilty of a crime if this bill passes. AB1092 has been assigned to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Assembly Resolution 21, authored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and Assemblywoman Bonnie Coleman, urges 50 percent reduction in tolls for trucks using the NJ Turnpike between midnight and 6 a.m. The authors note that since a 1991 increase in tolls for trucks of 100 percent, traffic on local highways has "increased dramatically." In their view, it is safer and more cost effective to reduce tolls during non-peak hours to encourage truckers to use the turnpike.

The general information number for the New Jersey legislature is 609-292-4840.

When local law enforcement officers in Michigan write tickets for safety violations on commercial vehicles, many truckers feel the emphasis is on revenue enhancement rather than safety. According to an article in The Detroit News, one trucker was fined $500 for having mud on his license plate. This overly enthusiastic enforcement is attributed to the existing law allowing local communities to keep all of the money they collect in commercial truck fines. Rep. Rick Johnson attempted to revise this practice with the introduction of HB4927 last September.

In Oct.1999, the House passed a version of HB4927 that called for allocating 30 percent of fine revenues to local jurisdictions for road repair and maintenance, 40 percent to the state's libraries, and 30 percent to the local court.

The Senate passed a version on April 6 that calls for 70 percent of commercial vehicle fines to go to local jurisdictions with no restrictions on the way the money is spent, and 30 percent to libraries.

There was no conference committee to hammer out differences in the two versions of the bill. On April 18, the House voted 91 to 15 to accept the Senate's version of the bill, and the measure now goes to Gov. John Engler for his signature.

There is some good news. HB4927 passed as part of a six-bill transportation package. One of the other bills contains a provision that will give truckers who have been cited for an equipment violation (other than out-of-service violations) 14 days to correct the violation, present proof, and thus avoid a fine. There is also a provision mandating officers who inspect commercial vehicles be trained to CVSA standards.

The speed limit bill in Arizona has taken several twists and turns, few of them good news for truckers. As introduced and passed by the House, HB2256 called for a maximum of 65 mph for trucks, as well as across the board lane restrictions.

The bill was amended by the Senate Transportation Committee to require the AZ DOT to conduct traffic and engineering studies before lowering speed limits for trucks or restricting trucks to the right lanes on any section of interstate highway. This version was passed by the Senate.

A conference committee threw a monkey wrench into the works when it took the Senate's amendment and turned it around. The committee agreed on lowering truck speeds to 65 mph and then doing studies to determine if they can safely be raised.

According to a spokesman in the governor's office, the AZ DOT has already been studying the issue by reviewing highway designs and statistics for all the state's highways since the speed limits were raised. AZ DOT anticipates changing only those signs where their studies show truck speed limits should be lowered for reasons of safety.

The good news is Land Line was told by the governor's office that very few changes to posted speed limits for commercial trucks are expected. Truckers operating in Arizona will need to watch carefully for any changes in speed limit or lane restriction signage beginning July 18.

The Colorado House approved HB1227 on April 12. If HB1227 becomes law, big trucks will see a 25 percent reduction in state registration fees. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

HB1275 was killed by the Senate Finance Committee. The bill called for removing the state sales tax on "trailers, semitrailers, trucks, truck tractors, or truck bodies" used in interstate commerce, as well as parts used to repair or maintain these vehicles. However, a senate committee amended another tax bill (HB1259) to reduce the sales tax on these items to .01 percent. As we go to press, HB1259 is scheduled for a vote on the senate floor.

HB1142, regarding engine brakes, was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on April 13 and now goes to the full senate. This legislation requires commercial vehicles equipped with engine compression brakes to have mufflers. Use of an engine brake without a muffler will cost the offender $500 if this bill becomes law.

The legislature has approved HB91 and sent it to Gov. Mike Foster for his signature. The bill significantly increases fines for overweight trucks and eliminates the distinction in the cost per pound for over gross or over axle weight. However, whether a ticket is written for over axle or over gross will still depend on which violation results in the highest fine.

New overweight fines
Overweight pounds Penalty
1 to 999 $ 10 minimum
1,000 to 1,999

 $.01 per pound in
excess of legal limit

2,000 to 2,999 $.02
3,000 to 3,999 $.03
4,000 to 4,999 $.04
5,000 to 5,999  $.05
6,000 to 6,999  $.06
7,000 to 7,999 $.07
8,000 to 8,999  $.08
9,000 to 9,999  $.09
10,000 to 10,999 $.10
11,000 and over  $.11

SB1064 proposes adding $10 to the registration fee for large trucks to fund hazardous waste cleanup. This bill has been approved by the Committee on Commerce and the Environment and now goes to the full Senate.

There is no change in status for a number of bills relating to lowering truck speed limits and lane restrictions. HB1672 proposes reinstating split speed limits on Missouri's rural interstates and expressways. The bill calls for a maximum speed of 60 mph for trucks over 12 tons. Under another provision of the legislation, the Department of Transportation would have the authority to restrict trucks to the right lanes on six-lane highways. The bill is in the House Transportation Committee.

Both SB841 and SB652 propose maximum speed limits for trucks over 24,000 lb. GVW of 65 mph on rural freeways and interstates. SB792 calls for lowering speed limits for all vehicles to 65 mph on rural freeways and interstates. These bills are assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 30. The general information number for the legislature is 573-751-3824.

Gov. Frank O'Bannon has signed HB1106 into law. The bill prohibits the use of engine brakes on the IN Toll Road in counties with populations in excess of 125,000 but less than 129,000, namely Porter County, just east of Gary.

SB1368 and HB893 propose transferring the responsibility of motor carrier compliance and safety from the Assistant Secretary for District Operations to the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. SB1368 also calls for increasing the numbers of Florida DOT districts from eight to nine, with the newest district to be headquartered in Duval County. SB1368 is on the Senate calendar.

HB893 also calls for the creation of an Office of Motor Carrier Compliance within the DOT.

The bill has been assigned to the transportation committee.

HB561 will eliminate the requirement that the seat belt law be enforced as a secondary action when a driver has been stopped for another violation. In other words, if this one passes, a law enforcement officer who notices that a driver is not wearing a seat belt can stop the vehicle to issue a citation. The bill was approved by the transportation committee and is under consideration by the Criminal Justice Appropriations committee.

The general information number for the Florida legislature is 850-488-1234.

SB292 died in the House Transportation Committee. The bill called for raising speed limits for all vehicles to 70 mph on interstates, parkways, and other four lane highways. The bill also called for doubling speeding fines for all drivers. The legislature adjourned April 14.