Connecticut proposals take aim at trucking industry

| 3/7/2005

A number of proposals in the Connecticut General Assembly are intended to improve safety on highways but may make truckers feel a bit unwelcome in the state.

The proposed legislation would require:

  • That trucks drive slower than other vehicles;
  • That trucks stay to the right on multilane highways;
  • That the Greenwich weigh station be open more frequently to increase truck inspections;
  • That trucks be prohibited from using engine brakes; and
  • That fines be increased for truckers traveling illegally on the Merritt Parkway.

All of the proposals are before the Joint Transportation Committee. The deadline for bills to pass out of the committee is Friday, March 11.

An effort offered by Rep. Steve Jarmoc would limit large trucks to 55 mph on rural interstates. Currently, tractor-trailers driving those stretches of highway can travel up to 65 mph – the same limit as all other vehicles.

Another plan from Jarmoc, D-Enfield, would force trucks to use only the far right lane on multilane highways.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes split speed limits and lane restrictions for any class of vehicle.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president at OOIDA, said the bill requiring trucks to drive at speeds 10 mph slower than other vehicles does not promote safety on the highways.

“It does exactly the opposite by requiring that vehicles are constantly in conflict with each other. Lane changes and passing are constantly required to avoid crashes,” Spencer said.

“While some may suggest that having slower speed limits for trucks can somehow promote safety, there is much research to suggest otherwise. Forty states currently have uniform speed limits for all vehicles using their highways.”

In addition, Spencer said adopting lane restrictions would be an ill-advised step to take.

“Such restrictions invariably cause more problems than they fix,” Spencer said. “When you start restricting vehicles to certain lanes you end up with more vehicles tailgating and making unsafe passing maneuvers in all lanes. This isn’t good for congestion or highway safety.”

But lawmakers said highway conditions must be improved.

“There is an emerging recognition that trucks are an increasing component of congestion on our highways,” Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, told The Advocate.

McDonald has attached his name to proposals that would open the Greenwich weigh station more often and another that would reduce the noise made by engine brakes.

McDonald said he knows that engine brakes make loud noise because of what some truckers do to them after purchase, but said his proposal is valid.

“This is a perfect example of where we can work with the trucking industry to alleviate noise pollution,” he said.

Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, said he proposed a pair of bills to increase hours at the weigh station on the southbound side of Interstate 95, between Exits 2 and 3, to boost enforcement of truck safety laws.

“There needs to be some regulation of traffic that comes through our highways, and what we’re seeing is a lack of enforcement,” Duff said. “We need to get a better handle on the weigh station.”

Rep. Lile Gibbons, R-Greenwich, offered a plan that would hike the fine for truckers who illegally travel on the Merritt Parkway from $70 to $250.

Gibbons insists she isn’t targeting the trucking industry; she simply wants to make sure the law is enforced, she told the newspaper.

“The fine right now is too little,” she said. “Increasing it will serve as a deterrent.”

--by Keith Goble, state legislative editor