Truckers spoke up; Wyoming Senate rejected split speeds

| 2/4/2005

Wyoming senators rejected legislation Jan. 28 that called for adopting split speed limits in the state.

The full Senate vote was 15-15, failing to produce the simple majority needed to approve the bill.

The bill – SF126 – sought to set the speed limit for large trucks at 65 mph on the state’s interstate highways. All other vehicles would have been permitted to continue to travel at the current 75 mph limit.

In the time before the Senate floor vote, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, with about 400 members residing in Wyoming, encouraged truck drivers to contact their lawmakers about the issue.

Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, told Land Line he received several e-mails and phone calls from Wyoming-based professional drivers regarding the proposal.

“Oh my goodness, I heard from a lot of truckers,” Schiffer said. “Not just truckers in my Senate district, but truckers from all over the state. They were good. It’s always difficult if you get an e-mail and it simply says vote yes or no. The e-mails I got, they explained what the bill did to them economically, what it did to them in concerns to safety. It wasn’t just ‘vote no.’ It was ‘We don’t want you to vote for this and here’s what it will do to us.’ Those are the best kind, actually.”

Schiffer said the insight he gained from Wyoming truckers was very influential in shaping his vote and may have made the difference in assuring the deadlocked vote.

“I’m not a trucker, it’s not an industry I know a lot about. At least I know where they’re coming from,” he said.

He couldn’t speak for his fellow senators and the feedback they received, but he’s guessing they found it just as helpful as he did.

“A lot of legislation is in fact talking about things and talking with the people who actually drive the trucks in this case, asking ‘What will this do?’ and then weighing that against the safety concern, which is what brought the bill forward. It’s weighing that then the alternatives.”

Schiffer said alternatives offered by truckers could prompt future consideration in the Legislature.

“A couple of truckers from up in my neighborhood offered some alternatives, such as speed reductions in a couple of really bad stretches on I-80. That’s a reasonable compromise, I think. Another suggestion was whether in those really high-accident rate areas, could the state look into adding a third lane on the interstate. That’s pretty constructive in my mind,” he said.

Overall, the communication with truckers left a lasting impression on Schiffer.

“It wasn’t a negative thing,” he said. “It was: ‘Yes, we recognize a problem, let’s see if all of us together can work out a solution.’”

The effort to create the split speeds had passed the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee on a 5-0 vote.

Senate President Grant Larson, R-Jackson, said he told the Senate panel during preliminary discussion that he thinks most Wyoming truckers follow the law. It is the out-of-state truckers that cause problems, he said.

Larson said he was prompted to introduce the bill after making many harrowing journeys to Cheyenne on Interstate 80, a main artery for trucks.

“I and others are absolutely tired of them roaring down the highway at any speed and putting everybody else in danger,” Larson said.

According to local media, in the couple of weeks prior to the Senate vote, I-80 had been the scene of numerous truck accidents, and the highway was closed near Laramie for a brief time after one tractor-trailer rear-ended another, killing a driver and spilling potentially explosive chemicals.

The Senate bill, however, isn’t the only piece of legislation before Wyoming lawmakers to slow trucks down.

Rep. Kurt Bucholz, R-Saratoga, has offered a bill that calls for truckers traveling on interstates to slow to 65 mph “when there is evidence of moisture on the roadway.” The law would apply only to trucks. Violators could face a fine of $100 if found to be driving in excess of 70 mph with any sign of moisture present.

HB212 is in the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor