Alabama bills advance that tackle safety issues, idling reduction

| 4/18/2008

A handful of bills on the move in the Alabama statehouse are intended to make the state’s roadways safer. They include efforts to lower speed limits, limit left lane use, and make way for emergency vehicles. Another bill is intended to be used as an incentive to reduce truck idling.

One bill nearing passage is intended to encourage idling reduction. Sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, the measure would increase the maximum gross vehicle, axle, tandem or bridge formula weight limits for large trucks equipped with idle reduction technology. It would authorize affected trucks to weigh up to an additional 400 pounds.

A similar effort recently was approved in Nebraska. Legislation in Illinois and Missouri would adopt similar rules.

The Alabama bill – HB238 – is awaiting consideration before the full Senate. The House previously approved it.

Efforts to make roadways safer also are moving forward. The first bill would slow vehicles by 5 mph on rural, interstate highways and other roadways throughout the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Thad McClammy, D-Montgomery, the measure would drop the 70 mph speed limit on interstates to 65 mph. Other highways with four or more traffic lanes would have speed limits reduced from 65 mph to 60 mph.

A speed limit committee also would be created to adjust the speed limit on interstate highways. McClammy wrote in the bill that adjusting the maximum speed limit would help conserve fuel and make for safer roads.

Officials opposed to slowing vehicles point out that interstates were designed to accommodate traffic driving at 70 mph.

The House Public Safety Committee approved the bill – HB103 – on a voice vote. Its next stop is the House floor.

House lawmakers already approved another bill that is intended to combat aggressive driving on multi-lane highways by keeping the far left lane clear of most traffic. Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, the measure – HB106 – would prohibit traffic from lingering in the so-called passing lane.

Left-lane use would be limited to vehicles passing or overtaking slower moving traffic. Violators would receive warnings for the first six months. After that, $25 fines would be handed out. Offenses would not count against driving records.

At least 20 states have similar left lane restriction rules, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Martin’s bill has moved to the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee.

Another House-approved bill that has moved to the Senate transportation panel would add Alabama to the list of at least 30 states with laws designed to protect emergency personnel and certain other vehicles during roadside stops.

Rep. Martin offered the bill – HB379 – that would require drivers to maintain a safe distance and reduce speed before passing law enforcement, emergency vehicles, or wreckers parked by the road with their lights flashing.

Dubbed the “Move Over Act,” the measure would require drivers to merge into a lane further away from the specified vehicles, if practical. On two-lane highways, drivers would be required to reduce speed before passing.

Offenders would get off with a warning during the first nine months. After that, failure to obey the rule would result in fines between $25 and $100.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor