Massachusetts bills focus on trucking topics

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 7/21/2011

One bill would get tough with truck drivers who fail to clear snow and ice off their vehicles.

Sponsored by Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, the bill – H956 – specifies that the wintry precipitation be removed when accumulation amounts to one quarter of an inch thick or more.

“It shall be the responsibility of the owner, as well as the operator of such vehicle to ensure the removal of accumulated snow and ice” before departure, Turner wrote.

Violators would face fines of at least $100. If injury or property damage occurs, fines would increase to $500.

A similar bill – H955 – would apply the snow removal mandate to trucks and other larger vehicles.

The issue of snow and ice removal is not a new topic in many states in the northeast U.S. Since October 2010, New Jersey has allowed police to ticket drivers simply for having snow or ice atop their vehicles. In Connecticut, a similar rule will take effect in December 2013.

Efforts to adopt similar rules have been pursued in states that include Maine, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Critics, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, point out facilities are not readily available in states to accommodate such mandates. Another problem is the practicality of requiring people to climb atop large vehicles, and doing it in less-than desirable conditions.

In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration prohibits anyone on the job from climbing to such heights.

Two other bills address truck idling. Massachusetts already limits idling to five minutes each hour.

The first bill – H907 – would reduce from five minutes to two minutes how long a truck can idle.

The second bill would create more flexibility for truckers. In most instances, drivers idling their trucks while sleeping or resting would be exempt from the rule.

Sponsored by Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, D-East Boston, S1780 includes a provision that covers idling while trucks wait to load or unload. Owners of locations served by trucks would be prohibited from causing vehicles to idle for more than 30 minutes while waiting to do business at the location.

The owner or operator of trucks, as well as the owners of locations served by trucks that are found to be in violation would face fines of at least $100, while repeat offenders would face fines up to $500.

Exceptions would be included for situations when idling is necessary to operate defrosters, heaters, air conditioners or other equipment “solely to prevent a safety or health emergency” that is not part of a rest period.

The bill also specifies that use of auxiliary power units, gen sets or other idle reduction technologies to provide heat, air or electrical power as an alternative to idling is not included in the restriction.

Another issue brought up at the statehouse is language offerings for commercial driver’s licensing tests.

Massachusetts law now limits CDL tests to English only. “Reasonable accommodations” are supposed to be made for non-English speaking CDL applicants. Meanwhile, testing for personal vehicle licenses is available in 25 languages.

H3073 would expand language offerings when taking the CDL exam to include Spanish and Portuguese. Also, the state could expand the list of languages if deemed necessary.

The bills are in the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts, click here.

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