Idling rule advances in Texas

| Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Texas Senate panel has advanced a bill that would override some five-minute idling rules. The bill would allow truckers to idle their rigs during HOS-mandated rest periods until September 2007. This date corresponds with stringent diesel emission reductions slated to start at that time.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved the bill May 6. It prohibits and limits adoption or enforcement of rules that ban trucks and other vehicles from idling when necessary to power a heater or air conditioner while a driver is using the vehicle’s sleeper berth for a mandated rest period.

The bill – HB1540 – now heads to the full Senate for further consideration. It passed the state House last month.

If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry, the law would override a recent Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ruling permitting cities to opt into a rule that outlaws any idling for more than five minutes for any reason in a truck.

“Federal and state law requires 18-wheelers to pull over and rest. It would be putting them in a very bad predicament to tell them they must meet federal and state laws on the number of hours they can drive without resting but then not allow them to take that rest without any air conditioning running, which would usually be the case in Texas, and on rare occasions, the heater running,” Dennis Bonnen, the bill’s sponsor, said during a recent hearing on his bill. “That’s why idling would be necessary to work with them on that.”

Current state law prohibits idling for longer than five minutes from April 1 to Oct. 31 in Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties.

Bonnen’s bill would not change that.

An amendment added by Bonnen, R-Angleton, would add a two-year sunset to the measure to correspond with stringent diesel emission reductions slated to start in September of 2007.

Despite Bonnen’s call to sunset the bill in two years, he said the issue is still important “because we must ensure truckers are able to make their mandatory rest required by federal and state law.”

He went on to say the bill “may also bridge the time until new technologies to provide heat and cooling without idling are more readily available.”

Another provision added to the bill prohibits idling while using a vehicle’s sleeper berth within 1,000 feet of a public school while class is in session. Violators could be fined up to $500.

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