Legislation would get tough with too-tall trucks in Virginia

| 9/27/2006

A Virginia lawmaker is taking a hard-line approach to truck drivers caught with over-height vehicles at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

Delegate Glenn Oder, R-Newport News, has introduced legislation that targets offending truckers for consideration during a special session on transportation that starts Wednesday, Sept. 27.

“My goal isn’t to penalize all the truckers. We’ve got to find a way to penalize the bad apples,” Oder told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio.

Heftier fines and warning letters to trucking companies last year helped briefly curtail incidents of too-tall trucks attempting passage in the westbound tube on Interstate 64 near Norfolk, VA. In recent months, however, wayward trucks have been making their way back on to the route, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The result has been more congestion.

To address the issue, Oder is calling for getting tougher with problem trucks.

Virginia law calls for $500 fines and authorizes judges to add three demerit points to a commercial driver’s license. It takes 18 demerits in one year to trigger a license suspension.

Oder initially sought a fine of $1,000 and $2,500 for a fourth violation. The House Courts of Justice Committee agreed to the $1,000 fine on the first offense. A second offense would bring a $2,500 fine. Violations would be considered a moving violation to ensure it is included on the trucker’s driving record.

Oder said while he believes the fines that took effect in July 2005 work as a deterrent they just aren’t high enough.

“When the fines initially got enacted and they first started ending up in the courtroom there was almost a 70 percent drop in the number of violators. But through the course of the spring and into early summer it eventually creeped back up to exactly where it was before we initiated the fines,” Oder said.

Signs have been posted on nearby Interstates 564 and 64, which merge to form I-64, to inform truckers about the height restriction. In addition, fliers have been posted at truck stops alerting truckers to the restrictions and the penalties for violations.

If truckers fail to heed the warnings, a series of four over-height sensors – one about one and three-quarters miles away from the tunnel entrance, one at an inspection station three-quarters of a mile away, another at about a quarter of a mile away, and a fourth close to the tunnel’s mouth – alert a truck over 13 feet 6 inches tall if it attempts to pass.

Oder said that from May to mid-August, the Virginia Department of Transportation stopped 1,400 trucks that sensors determined to be close to or over the height restrictions. VDOT must stop traffic around the bridge-tunnel an average of more than four times each business day because truckers have ignored the warnings signals and approached the tunnel, he said.

The bill – HB5061 – is awaiting consideration on the House floor. If approved, it would head to the Senate.