Colorado bill to ticket slow-moving vehicles advances

| 1/23/2009

A bill nearing passage in the Colorado House has sparked debate from truckers and farmers concerned about their safety while hauling loads on roadways in the state.

House lawmakers voted Friday, Jan. 23, to advance a bill that is intended to keep slow-moving vehicles – cars, trucks or RVs – from blocking traffic and to allow other travelers to stay up to speed. The chamber could make a third and final vote on the matter as early as next week. If approved, the measure would move to the Senate for further consideration.

Colorado law now prohibits vehicles from impeding the normal traffic flow. However, it’s a judgment call by law enforcement whether to issue a ticket.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, the bill – HB1042 – would make impeding the flow of five or more vehicles following immediately behind a mandatory offense.

The 2004 law was intended to cut down on road rage and ease traffic woes on state highways by encouraging drivers to use the left lane for passing only.

Dubbed the “Courtesy Bill,” Merrifield’s measure would require slow-moving vehicles to drive in the right-hand lane or pull off the road and let the trailing vehicles pass. Pulling off the road would be mandatory only where it can be accomplished safely and lawfully.

An amendment added to the bill on the House floor would exempt commercial vehicles from pulling off if there is fewer than 12 feet of shoulder alongside the road.

Other changes to the bill that sought to exempt hazardous materials haulers and farm vehicles failed to gain the endorsement of legislators.

Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, asked lawmakers to consider the potential that hazmat loads could be hijacked as a result of their compliance with the proposal.

“This is a situation where terrorists could do something with the vehicle. These are dangerous materials that need to be exempted,” Balmer told lawmakers before the vote.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, asked lawmakers to specifically make an exception for farm vehicles.

Merrifield countered that the amendments are not necessary. He said the bill adds to current rules, which specify hazmat loads and agricultural vehicles are not required to pull over unless it is safe to do so.

“The purpose of the bill is to create the opportunity for those who are backed up behind to pass at a safe time and not be overly impatient and pass when it’s dangerous to do so,” Merrifield said during debate on the House floor.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association issued a Call to Action on the bill Thursday, Jan. 22. To read it, click here. Officials with the truckers group said that while OOIDA sympathizes with lawmakers about RVs that obstruct traffic, “we have concerns about any law that would require trucks to pull over on a grade or in a situation where starting up again would be a problem.”

Merrifield tried to ease the concerns of trucking industry officials and other critics.

“If pulling off the highway and then pulling back on the highway creates a more dangerous situation, they would not be required to do so. They would not be ticketed for not pulling over,” Merrifield said.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Colorado in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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