Too-tall trucks face tougher fines in Virginia

| 10/13/2006

Gov. Tim Kaine signed a bill into law Tuesday, Oct. 10, that will have truck drivers caught with over-height vehicles at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel digging a lot deeper into their pockets.

Sponsored by Delegate Glenn Oder, R-Newport News, the bill – HB5061 – was approved by legislators during a two-day special session on transportation that wrapped up Sept. 28. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2007.

“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 prior to the bill being signed into law.

Heftier fines and warning letters to trucking companies last year helped briefly curtail incidents of too-tall trucks attempting passage in the westbound tube along Interstate 64 near Norfolk, VA. The fines were $85, but increased to $500 in July 2005.

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 offered the bill to get tougher with problem trucks.

In addition to the $500 fines, Virginia law 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.

The new law doubles to $1,000 the fine for truckers who ignore height restrictions. Subsequent offenses will result in $2,500 fines. Violations will 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 a year ago work as a deterrent they just aren’t high enough to solve the problem.

“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 creped 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.

Another bill signed into law by the governor encourages the state to look into partnering with private groups.

The new law, previously HB5064, makes the Commonwealth Transportation Board responsible for promoting increasing private investment in Virginia’s transportation infrastructure, including but not limited to acquisition of causeways, bridges, tunnels, highways, and other transportation facilities.