Legislators in New Jersey have taken further action on a highly controversial bill that targets commercial truck drivers. The bill, against loud opposition from many industry representatives, was voted out of the Assembly transportation committee recently. The Senate version of the bill remains in the transportation committee of that body with no projected date for discussion.
The Ed Durr Revenge Bill?
The bill (A4470) was introduced in 2022 and has been called “stupid” and “punitive” among other characterizations. A writer for Politico went so far as to label the proposed law as a form of payback for the election of former Republican truck driver Ed Durr when he defeated Democrat Steve Sweeney, who was formally the New Jersey Senate President. It was noted the only opposition to forwarding the bill came from a Republican Assemblyman.
While using the cover of added truck safety, an issue gaining attention at the federal and state level, the proposed legislation would double fines for drivers of commercial vehicles over five tons who use the left lane of those roads that have two or more lanes. Current laws already prohibit truckers from roads with three or more lanes. However, this law would apply to more than the current Garden State Parkway, Atlantic State Expressway, and the New Jersey Turnpike.
The fines for any infraction would also double to $200 to $600 from between $100 to $300. Moreover, the more onerous aspect of the new fines would be the requirement for drivers to appear in person to address the citations rather than having a pay-by-mail option. Several lobbyists, including Eric DeGesero of the NJ Motor Truck Association and Marey Ellen Peppard of the NJ Food Council, focused on this element as evidence of its punitive nature.
DeGesero was quoted as noting, “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?”
Even state officials from the Administrative Office of the Courts noted the bill was overreaching in its language. Andrea Johnson from that office was quick to point out that the requirement to appear in person was one controlled by the state’s Supreme Court.
More Tech Controls
While the primary outcry came from the implications of restricting truckers in all circumstances from using the left lane, another bill targeting drivers was also a target of criticism. This proposed law would require all commercial vehicles to invest in advanced global positioning systems that would provide alerts concerning low clearance obstacles, weight restrictions, and other capabilities.
While GPS is a standard feature on most trucks and vehicles, this technology would require more advanced equipment. Lobbyist Peppard also weighed in on this bill, noting, “We’re still having supply-chain challenges, record inflation. We have a significant driver shortage — with 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.”
These bills represent a growing battle over the often-conflicting priorities of maximizing the use of trucks to solve growing logistical problems and ensuring safe roads and highways. The pandemic highlighted the vital role of truckers in keeping supplies moving and shelves stocked.
Some automobile drivers might welcome these laws as needed without having any understanding of their true impact.
Yet, the driver shortage crisis and other pressures, such as increasing prices for fuel and insufficient truck and trailer production, continue to hamper supply line efficiency. Adding new legislative burdens will only compound the problems.
Additionally, as was pointed out with this bill, the tradeoffs of hampering truck and driver efficiency, such as with speed limiters, often have unintended consequences that introduce new safety risks and concerns.
The coming months will see these tradeoffs fiercely debated at the local, state, and federal levels. Lobbyists and industry trade groups have announced new efforts to mobilize truckers and trucking firms to push back on some of the more restrictive and expensive proposals.