Longer trucks get Senate OK

Without debate Tuesday, the N.C. Senate passed and sent the House a far-reaching measure to put longer trucks, wider boats and heavier farm commodity trucks on N.C. roads.

Trucking and business interests have pushed for the Senate proposal to let 53-foot tractor-trailers use all primary highways – replacing a 48-foot limit on most roads.

“The 53-foot-trailers are more productive than the antiquated 48-foot trailers, and using them means we can put fewer trucks on the road,” said Charlie Diehl, president of the N.C. Trucking Association. “And that's good for congestion issues and air quality issues.”

Fishermen and other boaters have lobbied for the legislation to let them haul boats and trailers up to 10 feet wide on state roads, day or night, without a permit. A House committee today will review a similar bill to ease limits on towing wide boats.

The State Highway Patrol has warned that the changes could lead to nighttime collisions involving wide boat trailers that straddle the center line on narrow roads. The Highway Patrol also contends that 53-foot trucks are not safe on some highways – particularly on narrow, winding mountain roads in Western North Carolina.

“It amazes me that they can dismiss the Highway Patrol's concerns about safety,” Jennifer Tierney of Forsyth County, a board member for a national safety group called Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, said after the Senate vote. Tierney lost her father in a 1983 crash that involved a tractor-trailer.

“They're just going to wait until crashes happen and bodies pile up before they recognize it was a mistake,” she said.

The legislation would allow state transportation safety experts to propose marking some roads off-limits to long trucks. But the final decision would rest with a legislative oversight committee co-chaired by Sen. Clark Jenkins of Edgecombe County, sponsor of the Senate bill.

Diehl said there was work to be done in the House to improve safeguards that would keep long trucks from using specific roads where they aren't safe.