North Dakota committees meet to discuss truck size and weight legislation

January 11, 2021

Keith Goble

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Pursuit is underway at the North Dakota statehouse for a rule that could allow trucks longer than doubles or triples.

Committees in the North Dakota House and Senate heard testimony last week on legislation that supports road trains on roadways throughout the state. No state currently allows more than three trailers to be pulled by a single tractor.

The House Transportation Committee voted 10-4 to advance a measure that 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.

House concurrent resolution, HCR3001, 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.”

Comments from trucking industry

A lobbyist for the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association provided testimony at the hearing. Citing a driver shortage that 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, recently communicated to state lawmakers 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 effects of longer and heavier trucks on road infrastructure and on safety.

HCR3001 can now come up for a vote on the House floor.

Additional concerns

The Senate Transportation Committee also met last week to discuss a related effort, SB2026, to 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 the 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.

The committee did not vote on SB2026. 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.