Texas bills with eye on trucking rules advance

| 4/6/2007

Several bills of interest to the trucking industry recently won approval in the Texas Senate. They’ve been forwarded to the state’s House for further consideration.

Among the bills is a measure intended to curb unsafe trucking operations. Currently, state law doesn’t prohibit intrastate travel for motor carriers that have been deemed unfit or unsafe for interstate travel by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Sponsored by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the bill would prohibit motor carriers from operating intrastate if the FMCSA has prohibited them from operating in interstate commerce because of safety concerns. It also would prohibit an employer from knowingly permitting a person to drive such a vehicle if the employer is subject to an out-of-service order affecting a driver or vehicle.

Violators to the proposed rules would face up to $2,000 fines and/or 180 days in jail.

The Senate and House have approved the bill – SB332 – clearing the way for it to move to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.

Another bill authored by Carona would bring state law in line with federal rules for saddlemounts. The rule was part of the 2005 federal highway legislation. The bill – SB331 – would change the maximum length for saddlemount vehicle transporter combinations in the state from 75 feet to 97 feet.

Two more bills penned by Carona deal with cargo securement.

One bill – SB387 – would add refuse and aggregates to the list of material that must be covered to prevent from blowing or spilling from trucks. State law now includes sand, gravel, dirt and wood chips under the items that must be covered.

The bill also would delete a provision in state law that exempts vehicles operated at speeds below 30 mph from the mandatory coverage requirement.

“That 30 mph exemption really doesn’t serve much purpose when, in fact, loose items continue to fly out of the truck,” Carona told lawmakers during a hearing on the bill.

In response to complaints received by the Texas Department of Public Safety, the second bill is intended to remove a loophole to enforcement of cargo securement rules. Under existing state law, it isn’t a violation to transport cargo that is not secure. A violation occurs only once a load has blown, spilled or fallen from a vehicle.

The bill – SB327 – would allow haulers to be penalized for failure to properly secure cargo before an incident occurs. Violators would face $200 fines.

A bill offered by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, relates to the construction of cattle guards on county roads.

Texas law now only permits counties with populations of less than 60,000 to construction of cattle guards on county roads. The bill – SB66 – would remove the population limit.

One other bill that originated in the House wasn’t as fortunate. Sponsored by Rep. Tracy King, D-Eagle Pass, the bill sought to get tougher with trains that block roads.

The bill – HB1184 – would have lowered from 10 minutes to 5 minutes the amount of time streets, railroad crossings or highways can be blocked by trains. It also would have increased fines for obstructing a railroad crossing with a train from as much as $300 to $1,000. If the obstruction continues beyond 10 minutes an additional $1,000 fine would have been added for each five minute interval.

King’s bill was held in committee, effectively killing it for the year. The Senate bills are in committees in the House.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor