State Watch
Bills covering truck contracts, truck rules, tolling, ticketing methods and idling among those still being considered
As fall approaches, some state legislatures are still in regular session, and dozens of trucking-related bills are on the radar.

Bills of note
A growing trend across the country to do away with indemnification clauses in motor carrier transportation contracts shows no signs of slowing. The clauses are set up to protect shippers or hold them harmless from anything that happens with a shipment.

Gov. Scott Walker could soon add Wisconsin to the list of nearly 30 states to outlaw the unfair provisions. If signed into law, SB41 would declare motor carrier contracts that provide for shippers to be indemnified for losses caused by their own negligence to be “void and unenforceable.”

Affected contracts would be defined as “any agreement, regardless of whether it is written, oral, express, or implied,” between a motor carrier and a shipper covering the transportation of property for hire by the motor carrier, entry on property to load, unload or transport property, or any service incidental to such activity, including the storage of property.

In California, a bill halfway through the statehouse would give communities wiggle room on speed limits, and yellow light intervals.

Since 2004, California law has required cities to round up their speed limits starting at the 85th percentile of travel speeds. The posted speed must be rounded to the nearest 5 mph increment.

AB529 would give local governments the option to round speed limits down after a traffic study.

Critics of the plan say it would allow communities to create speed traps.

Massachusetts lawmakers could soon consider a bill to put into statute authorization for large trucks equipped with APUs to weigh up to an additional 400 pounds. There are 16 states where the weight allowance is granted by enforcement policy rather than by state law. H951 would make the allowance state law.

Anyone who violates out-of-service orders in Michigan could soon pay a steeper price.

One bill calls for first offenders to face $2,500 fines. Motor carriers would also face stiff punishment. Employers convicted of knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting or authorizing a driver in OOS status to get behind the wheel would face up to $25,000 fines.

Another provision in SB495 would lengthen the duration of a driver’s suspension for violating an OOS order. Operating a truck subject to an OOS order would result in the driver’s license being suspended for six months – up from 90 days.

The state has a financial incentive to make the changes. Non-compliance would cost the state a 5 percent loss of federal highway aid, complete loss of all federal grants, and a $5,000-a-day fine.

A Pennsylvania bill calls for aspiring truck drivers to prove they have a firm grasp of the English language to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

State law now limits the written or oral portion of the knowledge test to English or Spanish. HB1180 would mandate the state’s CDL test to be given entirely in English.

Tolling initiatives
A two-bill package at the Michigan statehouse would allow the state to enter a public-private partnership with Canada and a private group to build and operate a toll bridge in Detroit downriver from the Ambassador Bridge – the busiest commercial border crossing between the U.S. and Canada. Taxpayer money could not be used to build the bridge. Also, the bridge could not add to the state’s debt. The bills are SB410 and SB411.

The bridge project is opposed by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. He has been pushing to build his own bridge next to the existing structure.

In New Jersey, a Senate-approved bill would roll back future toll hikes on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

Specifically, S2636 would direct the turnpike authority to adopt a resolution to reduce tolls no longer required for payment of a now defunct tunnel project to link New York and New Jersey.

Truckers and other drivers have been paying more since 2008 to access the roadways. Tolls for heavy commercial vehicles to travel the full length of the turnpike were increased from $26.55 to $37.15 to help pay for a commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

A nearly identical increase is expected in 2012.

Also in New Jersey is a reform package that is intended to prevent spending and ethics abuses within all public bodies in the state. S2350 would impose restrictions concerning Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission commissioners, officers, and employees regarding employment, gifts, and compensation.

Across the state line in Pennsylvania, a bill is intended to reform the Delaware River Port Authority.

The $300-million-a-year bistate agency is funded by tolls on vehicles crossing the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

SB129 would make the agency more transparent and open to the public.

Provisions include adopting an open records policy; providing sufficient public notice prior to any vote concerning a contract; prohibiting vehicle allowances; and prohibiting the acceptance of any gifts.

To change DRPAs federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and approved by the federal government.

Safety measures
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering multiple bills to drop the state’s distinction as the only state to prohibit local police to use radar to nab speeders.

If changes are approved, local, full-time police officers who work for “full-service police departments” in counties with populations of at least 210,000 would have the option of adopting an ordinance to approve radar use.

To guard against cities setting up speed traps, the bill would require local departments to send citation revenue that exceeds 5 percent of the total municipal budget, or 5 percent of the regional police department budget, to the state.

Also in the Keystone State, a bill – HB821 – would allow Pittsburgh and other cities to post red-light cameras. Philadelphia already has cameras posted around the city.

Across the country in California, a bill is intended to help ensure that communities use red-light cameras to improve safety, not to fill coffers. SB29 would regulate use of the ticket cameras by establishing statewide standards for installation and operation.

Before communities can install cameras, they must show that “the system is needed at a specific location for reasons related to safety.”

The bill would also require local governments to better warn drivers that the cameras are in use.

Critics of automated enforcement say advance warning signs would go a long way to virtually solve the red-light running problem – in California and elsewhere.

Halfway through the Pennsylvania statehouse is a bill to make text messaging and talking on hand-held cell phones by drivers a primary offense, which would authorize police to pull over drivers solely for distracted driving.

Ohio and California lawmakers are also discussing texting while driving. The Ohio House has approved a bill to set up a statewide ban on the practice.

In California, a bill would increase fines for texting or talking on a hand-held phone while driving. Also targeted by the bill are bicyclists. Texting while biking could result in fines. LL