New Jersey bill seeks help of truckers in reporting suspicious activity

| 11/24/2009

Truck drivers are all too familiar with being the targets of legislative action. But an effort at the New Jersey statehouse bucks that apparent trend.

A bill awaiting a floor vote before the full Senate would make an exception from the state’s cell phone law for truck drivers to assist in national security efforts. Assembly lawmakers already approved a similar version.

However, with a little more than six weeks remaining in the legislative session, time is running out for the bill to advance to the governor’s desk, which would exempt the use of CBs and two-way radios from the state’s ban on hand-held communication devices while behind the wheel. They could be used by truck drivers to assist law enforcement efforts and communicate vital information while on the job. Operators of emergency vehicles also would be granted special privilege.

“New Jersey has invested significant training dollars in the private sector to educate the trucking industry on how to be an additional set of eyes and ears on our roadways when it comes to potential terrorist activity,” Sen. Fred H. Madden Jr., D-Camden and Gloucester, said in a written statement. “This is about helping drivers remain vigilant and giving them the tools to assist in our law enforcement efforts.”

The bill – A3084 – is of particular interest to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“Using the eyes and ears of truckers is critical. Truckers are skilled communicators when it comes to watchdogging our nation’s infrastructure,” said Doug Morris, OOIDA director of security operations. “That’s why we are supporting this bill and asking our New Jersey truckers to call their lawmakers and urge them to vote yes to A3084.”

This spring, OOIDA launched TRACER, the Transportation Alert Communications and Emergency Response program for its members. The program is a two-way communication system that both sends alert to members and coordinates information received from members. In addition, OOIDA is a subcontractor in the Transportation Security Administration’s new trucking security program, First Observer.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen M. Sweeney also touted the benefits of using truckers to assist law enforcement.

“Commercial drivers are not only vital to keeping our economy moving, but they add an extra set of eyes and ears when it comes to law enforcement activity,” said Sweeney, D-Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester. “At the same token, ensuring the timely arrival of emergency vehicles can save lives. Ultimately, this bill is a matter of practicality.”

New Jersey has outlawed the use of handheld communication devices while driving since spring 2008. Using such devices to talk on the phone or send text messages is a primary offense, meaning law enforcement could pull drivers over solely for using them.

If passed by the full Senate, the bill would move back to the Assembly for approval of changes before it could advance to the governor.

The Assembly version authorized truckers to use CBs without the requirement it be used to assist law enforcement efforts.

All legislation must pass both chambers prior to the end of the regular session, which is scheduled for Jan. 11.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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