Bills aimed at trucker safety advance, over outcry from trucking industry

By: - March 23, 2023 4:25 pm

Industry lobbyists warned lawmakers that bills hiking fines and requiring GPS could reduce their efficiency and burden truckers financially. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Legislators advanced a bill Thursday that would hike fines against truckers who travel in the left passing lanes of New Jersey roadways, despite objections from industry lobbyists who called the bill “stupid.”

Mary Ellen Peppard of the New Jersey Food Council urged legislators to oppose it, warning that forcing truckers to stay in the slower, more congested lanes of roadways will reduce their efficiency and increase the risk of accidents.

“You’re really sort of taking up time and hindering commerce at that point. It seems, I would say, punitive,” Peppard said.

Eric DeGesero echoed that sentiment, testifying against the bill on behalf of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, New Jersey Propane Gas Association, and the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey.

“We are all, as consumers, demanding things, and we get them how? Via truck,” DeGesero said. “The bill simply boggles the mind.”

Fines would double for operators of trucks weighing five tons or more who drive in the leftmost lane of roadways with two or more lanes under the bill, introduced in September by Assemblymen Joseph Egan (D-Middlesex) and Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer).

Current state law already bans such trucks in the far-left lane of roadways that have at least three lanes heading in the same direction, including the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, and Atlantic City Expressway. Scofflaws, who now face fines ranging from $100 to $300, would instead be fined between $200 and $600 under the bill.

Peppard and DeGesero especially condemned language in the bill that would require violators to appear in court, instead of responding to citations by mail or online.

“I’m a truck driver from Utah, and I’m unaware of a stupid New Jersey law, and I have to come back to pay a fine? And we’re increasing the fines as well, and we’re increasing them just for trucks, just for this?” DeGesero said. “It’s punitive, on top of punitive, on top of punitive, on top of punitive. And it’s unsafe. I urge you to defeat this bill.”

Andrea Johnson of the Administrative Office of the Courts also objected to that provision of the bill, telling legislators the state Supreme Court regulates which matters are payable and require court appearances.

“We’re concerned about it undermining our ability to designate how cases are processed within the Judiciary,” Johnson said.

Members of the Assembly’s transportation committee voted to advance the bill without comment. Only Assemblyman Christian Barranco (R-Morris) opposed it. The bill has no Senate companion.

In other business, the committee also advanced a bill that would require commercial vehicles to use global positioning systems that alert drivers to roadways’ weight restrictions and bridges and other infrastructure with low clearance on their routes. That bill is sponsored by Assemblymen John DiMaio (R-Warren) and Daniel Benson (D-Mercer).

DiMaio said mishaps like semi-trucks bashing into overpasses and an 18-wheeler’s illicit, 2.7-mile drive down the boardwalk between Atlantic City and Ventnor in 2017 inspired the legislation.

“Going off course has proven very costly for not just the truck driver, but also municipalities who have to try to alleviate unexpected traffic jams and repair roadways,” he said in a statement. “My bill prevents these types of accidents by equipping truck drivers with the right technology.”

Peppard raised concerns about the bill’s potential costs, saying expensive new equipment could be required for such GPS systems.

“We’re still having supply-chain challenges, record inflation. We have a significant driver shortage — with the truckers, it’s about 80,000,” Peppard said. “At least a portion of increased costs have to be passed on to consumers because our members have such small operating margins.”

The panel unanimously advanced the bill, whose Senate version remains stalled in that chamber’s transportation committee.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.