Vermont bill intended to reduce truck idling

| 11/24/2009

An effort at the statehouse would end Vermont’s distinction as the only New England state that doesn’t limit engine idling for most vehicles.

The Green Mountain State already limits how long buses can be left idling outside of schools. A bill from Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, would extend the prohibition to large trucks and delivery vehicles.

Intended to reduce unnecessary idling throughout the state, the bill would place time restrictions on the idling of trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

Sharpe’s bill to apply the restrictions to trucks idling for more than five minutes in any 60-minute period was introduced during the 2009 regular session but remained in committee when the session wrapped up. The effort can be picked up from where it left off when lawmakers convene the 2010 regular session early next year.

Violators would face fines of up to $500.

While the bill doesn’t include any idling exemptions for extreme temperatures, the Department of Motor Vehicles would be in charge of setting additional “times or circumstances that reasonably require the idling of an engine.”

The commissioner of motor vehicles also would be responsible for reviewing standards in effect in other states and work toward maintaining consistency with those standards.

Truck driver and OOIDA Member Dan Cohen of Burlington, VT, said a lot still remains to be done on the issue of idling. He focused on the bill’s lack of a temperature exception.

“A five-minute law puts dire constraints on truckers who are trying to make a living and have to live in a truck. People who live in houses are not under constraints of such temperature regulations. I don’t think truckers should be under temperature regulations either,” Cohen told Land Line.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say it is important that additional modifications be made to the bill, including temperature exceptions. The Association also would like to see the responsibility for idling violations placed on vehicle owners, instead of operators.

“This is an unfair responsibility to place solely on a person that does not own the truck being driven,” said Mike Joyce, OOIDA senior government affairs representative. Joyce said while some truck drivers use auxiliary power units, few motor carriers invest in the technology.

“An employee driver has no say in the economic decision whether to purchase and install these technologies on company-owned equipment,” he said.

That sentiment is supported by Cohen.

“Most definitely, the owners of trucks – who have the responsibility to set up the equipment so drivers can be comfortable – must answer to any law. Drivers should not be under pressure to deal with fines for equipment they’re not responsible for setting up,” Cohen said.

Supporters say that engine idling is extremely detrimental to the state’s air quality. They say expanding the restriction would go a long way in making cleaner air more widely available throughout the state.

Sharpe says the proposal would help save money in fuel costs, as well as reduce wear and tear on engine parts.

“If every driver of a motor vehicle in Vermont avoided idling a motor vehicle for just five minutes a day, the state would save millions of gallons of fuel,” Sharpe wrote in the bill.

Exceptions would be made for situations when idling is necessary to operate defrosters, heaters or air conditioners “to ensure the health or safety of the driver of passengers.” It also would make exceptions for operating auxiliary equipment.

In addition, the idling restriction would not apply when idling of trucks is necessary for maintenance or inspection.

The bill – H97 – is awaiting consideration in the Legislature’s Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The regular session convenes Jan. 5.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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