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OOIDA files comments to NJ DOT opposing truck ban

OOIDA has filed comments with the New Jersey Department of Transportation criticizing Gov. Christie Whitman's efforts to ban trucks from many of the state's routes. In its comments, OOIDA said the proposed ban is an over-broad solution that will increase congestion, fuel consumption and pollution. The ban could also create greater safety issues than it seeks to resolve.

In July, Whitman issued an order to ban trucks pulling trailers longer than 48 ft., trailers wider than 96 inches, and twin trailer combinations from most local and state routes unless doing business in New Jersey. The restrictions essentially relegate "interstate sized" trucks to the national highway system.

While the goal is to stop CMVs from using non-permitted roads as "shortcuts" through New Jersey, OOIDA's members have said these "shortcuts" are the safest and most efficient routes. These routes also allow truckers to avoid traffic congestion, especially congestion associated with rush hour and tollbooth backups. While Whitman called her move a "quality of life" issue, OOIDA points out that using these routes actually results in truckers spending less time on New Jersey roads, eases congestion on the main roads, reduces wear and tear on pavement and reduces pollution by causing trucks to burn less fuel.

The association points out that restricting CMVs to certain roads also creates an undue burden on interstate commerce and creates economic discrimination against goods and services other than those picked up or delivered in New Jersey. Increasing the number of miles that CMVs must travel in both NJ and its border states will also impose a significant economic hardship on owner-operators, says OOIDA. The organization believes Whitman's new regulations will cause increased fuel costs, increased tolls, increased time spent earning the same compensation, plus create a serious burden on interstate commerce outside of New Jersey.

Among OOIDA's concerns is that safety is the implied reason for the initiative. The state explains that these regulations will improve safety on its roads by removing CMVs from certain roads not designed to handle such vehicles. OOIDA believes that the state creates two classes of vehicles defined by the state's economic interests, and not on a safety basis. The state fails to explain how or why motor vehicles traveling in "interstate through traffic" are any less safe than vehicles driving in "intrastate access travel." The state offers no analysis, and OOIDA can think of none, supporting the conclusion that CMVs traveling through the state are any more likely to cause accidents than CMVs strictly serving New Jersey.

"OOIDA is convinced that there is no way the increased burden on interstate commerce imposed by the new regulations can be justified by the state's purported safety concerns," says OOIDA's President Jim Johnston. "Truckers are already subject to harassment under this order. If it becomes law, the state will legally be able to pick the pockets of truckers that are simply trying to operate their business in the most efficient manner possible."

OOIDA's comments also take issue with enforcement, stating it is unclear from the regulations what kind of safeguards will be in place to ensure that compliant trucks are not stopped several times a day and required to prove origin/destination in New Jersey. -Sandi Soendker

UPDATE

The ban is still threatening many as-yet-unaffected drivers
Since the emergency regulation was made permanent in September, New Jersey is reportedly seeking to take the ban a step further. Recent reports indicate that the state is "actively" examining the possibility of expanding the ban to include 96-inch-wide trucks as well. A spokesman for the DOT says New Jersey will stay this decision until some type of enforcement provision has been established.

At present, state troopers can only warn truckers who are in violation of the ban and/or ask them to turn around. But on Sept. 30, New Jersey Sens. Bill Schluter and Andrew Ciesla introduced legislation that sets the groundwork for fining truckers who violate the ban.

Senate Bill 2179 calls for the creation of an 11-member "Truck Law Enforcement Study Commission" comprised of various legislators, law enforcement officers, and a representative from the New Jersey Motor Truck Association. This commission will determine, over a six-month period, what role (if any) local police will play in enforcing the ban.

According to the text of the bill, "Any driver, owner, lessee or bailee of such a tractor-trailer operating in a non permitted area would be fined $400 for the first offense, $700 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense." Similarly, any driver caught with false dispatch papers would be fined $300. -Jason Cisper