North Dakota chambers advance truck size and weight legislation

February 1, 2021

Keith Goble

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Two pieces of legislation moving forward in the North Dakota statehouse could result in longer and heavier truck sizes on state roadways.

House lawmakers voted 62-30 to advance a measure that supports testing road trains on certain roadways throughout the state. No state currently allows more than three trailers to be pulled by a single tractor.

Specifically, House Concurrent Resolution 3001 encourages Congress to increase federal truck size and weight standards to benefit a road train pilot program. The nonbinding effort covers state highways and interstates that are part of the National Network in North Dakota and surrounding states.

The resolution defines road trains as “a trucking vehicle consisting of two or more connected trailers or semitrailers linked and hauled by a single operating prime mover or tractor which may exceed overall length and total gross vehicle weight limitations but not exceed current statutory axle load limitations.”

Truck industry weighs in 

A lobbyist for the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association provided testimony at a recent hearing in the House Transportation Committee. Citing a driver shortage the group estimates at 900,000 nationwide, the state trucking association supports the concept of road trains.

“With the consistent demand of moving freight by truck and the shortage of drivers, it is important to look at alternative ways to move freight,” NDMCA’s Matt Gardner testified.

Lewie Pugh, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, communicated to state lawmakers prior to committee discussion that the claim of a driver shortage could not be further from the truth.

“To the contrary, trucking has always suffered from overcapacity – too many trucks, trailers and drivers,” Pugh wrote. “Wages, working conditions, and rampant driver turnover are proof of this.”

Wayde Swenson of the North Dakota Department of Transportation shared with the committee concern from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that there is not a mechanism in place to test or license drivers of road trains longer than the national standard of doubles or triples.

“This concern is not addressed in this resolution,” Swenson said.

Pugh added that larger and heavier trucks would “significantly compromise margins of safety” on North Dakota roadways.

“The trucking industry has dozens of real issues that need to be addressed, but we can unequivocally say there is no driver shortage and no need for bigger and/or heavier trucks,” he said.

Gardner did voice concern to lawmakers about the potential impacts of longer and heavier trucks on road infrastructure and on safety.

Legislators voice safety concerns about increasing truck size

Speaking on the House floor prior to the vote, Rep. Lawrence Klemin R-Bismarck, questioned the safety of road trains interacting with other vehicles, and during winter weather.

“I’m concerned about safety. It is hard enough to pass some of these long trucks in winter driving conditions,” he said. “It gets pretty hard to see what you are doing. (The legislation) could allow road trains. I think this could have serious consequences to public safety.”

Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said also he has safety concerns.

“This looks like a simple thing, but the problem comes with traffic safety,” he said.

Nelson advocated for more money to be used to maintain the current road system.

HCR3001 has moved to the Senate.

Additional concerns

The Senate voted to endorse a related effort. SB2026 would authorize the governor to increase size and weight limits of commercial vehicles.

The bill does not provide details on size and weight limits that would be pursued.

Pugh has cautioned lawmakers about moving forward with increased size and weight rules.

“If you move forward with this, you’re going to unnecessarily impact a tremendous amount of capacity in an industry that simply doesn’t need it, all so a few shippers or private special interests can save money and move cheap freight. In other words, you are going to pick winners and losers.”

“You’re on the wrong side of this issue, and highway safety will suffer as a result,” he added.

Arik Spencer, speaking at a recent Senate Transportation Committee hearing on behalf of NDMCA, said the group supports “the concept of road trains,” but he said there are issues with the bill that must be addressed. Among the concerns cited are potential problems in vaguely defining road trains and the federal rules on truck size and weight.

The state trucking association opposes the bill as written.

Despite the concerns, and the Senate Transportation Committee voting to recommend it should not pass, the full Senate voted 30-17 to send the legislation to the House for further consideration. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from North Dakota is available.

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Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.