Truck drivers hauling overweight loads have ruined Utah highways, say transportation officials who hope to pay for road repairs and stop the practice by imposing a sharp increase in fines.
A legislative interim subcommittee over transportation and public safety supported a bill Monday that will increase fines from today's average $56 to a maximum of more than $2,000.That top fine was half of what was requested, however, because lawmakers feared heftier fines would hurt the troubled trucking industry.
A steering committee of state agency officials examining regulation of the trucking industry made the request for stiffer penalties. The committee also convinced legislators to approve bills that would beef up enforcement at the state's ports of entry - where semitrailer trucks are weighed.
Current fines are so low they are accepted by truckers as a business cost and they ignore weight restrictions if the oversized load means more profit, committee spokesman Barry C. Conover said.
He said an increase in the cost of fines would give truckers an incentive to stay within weight limits.
But industry officials, including several lawmakers, said truck drivers often don't known the weight of their load until it is on the scales at a port of entry. They said truckers should not be penalized if they don't intend to break the law.
Eugene H. Findlay, director of the Utah Department of Transportation, showed little sympathy. "If you do or don't know the load, damage to the highway is still the same," he replied.
No exact figure was given, but Findlay said a good share of $2 billion in needed highway repair in Utah can be attributed to overloaded trucks digging grooves into the roads.
"We need this incentive so people will make an effort to comply," he said.
The proposed fines apply to second offenders and range from 2 cents to 11 cents per pound overweight of the entire vehicle. Fines based per overweight axle also could be levied, starting at 3 cents per pound to 13 cents per pound per axle. Both gross weight and axle fines would be levied at 2,001 pounds, with the highest fine for violations of 25,001 pounds or more.
Some lawmakers, however, warned against laying heavy fines on an industry that is going through a competitive shakedown. With entrance restrictions lifted several years ago, competition is fierce and several motor carriers have gone out of business. Furthermore, some rural areas are served by only one carrier and have no alternative for supplies.
Despite a claim by transportation officials that the new schedule of fines was not contrived but carefully calculated, interim committee members couldn't approve the bill until the fines were cut in half.
To issue citations to offenders and catch other problems, such as drunk driving and other safety violations, the interim committee also approved legislation that would increase enforcement personnel - including Highway Patrol troopers - to make arrests at Utah's ports of entry.
Two more portable scale unit crews also would be added to catch truckers who take less-traveled roads and avoid the main ports of entry into the state.