Posted by: project151 | July 18, 2008

A compelling case against the easing of tractor-trailer rules in North Carolina

The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina); Sunday, July 13, 2008
HEADLINE: Not so fast; A national safety advocate makes a compelling case against the easing of tractor-trailer rules in North Carolina

North Carolina’s debate over whether to allow longer tractor-trailers on some highways has hit the national scope, thanks to a safety expert. Gerald A.
Donaldson is the senior research director for the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a coalition of several types of groups, from insurance companies to safety organizations. At a Washington hearing, he addressed issues related to moves not just in this state, but nationwide, to relax rules on truck lengths and weights.

Donaldson called the support from some North Carolina legislators for allowing longer trucks on more highways as showing a “disregard” for the “adverse safety and infrastructure impacts” of such a move, which is supported by the trucking lobby.

Word from the head of the N.C. Trucking Association isn’t that comforting.
Yes, Charlie Diehl said, the rules would be different. “It’s going to change what is legal,” the association president said, “but there won’t be a significant increase of 53-foot trailers on highways where you don’t have them now.” And why not? “Trucking industry operators recognize that the trucks are not safe to use on some roads, and they don’t use them on those roads now,” he said. That sounds a little like: Trust us.

Trucks and heavy vehicles cause much of the wear and tear on highways, costing huge sums of public money in repairs. And North Carolina, according to Donaldson, ranked fifth in the country in 2005 for the number of people, 204, who died in crashes involving large trucks.

The industry has made a push for these changes despite opposition on safety grounds from the state Highway Patrol and the Department of Transportation. How, then, can North Carolina’s lawmakers push on?

Alas, it appears it’s the tried and true tradition of listening to lobbyists for special interest groups over the voices of authoritative common sense.

The same might be said of other legislation that would relax rules for towing wide boats. Legislators also are scheduled to vote on final approval soon for allowing wide boats to be hauled on Sundays and holidays (now banned) and at night, provided the boats are 10 feet wide or less. Governor Easley has appropriately threatened a veto, if lawmakers continue to ignore his objections.

It’s certain the trucking and retail industry interests will continue to drive for action (as will those pushing the boat rule changes) before this session of the legislature adjourns. That’s the way things are done when legislation is designed to benefit a particular type of business or interest group without much regard to consequences or consumer interests.

The last thing a special interest group wants is prolonged debate and give-and-take discussion. That means cooler heads might prevail. It means someone, maybe many someones, given the chance to consider the broad implications of legislation, might pull a switcheroo and crawl out of the pocket of that special interest.

This legislation needs to be pulled off the road. Let’s have it stop in the weigh station of public opinion.

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