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Lawmakers want longer trucks, but drivers don’t

Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 6:29 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The 2020 holiday season showed that commerce doesn’t necessarily slow down in a pandemic. However, shopping patterns change.

More and more shoppers have made online retail their primary method, and that means there’s more demand on trucks to move product.

A bill moving through the state legislature would allow trucks to add extra trailers and weight to the loads.

Lawmakers want to see it passed. But those who actually drive the trucks don’t.

State legislators call it an economic plus. Lawmakers believe lengthening the loads will make more packages move quicker. So they’re considering lifting the maximum weights and lengths of trailers as part of a pilot project.

“We’re already seeing this. We got somebody moving a windmill blade. Already happening. Big payloader? I’ve seen it down the road. I’ve seen mining equipment down the road. We’re already seeing that,” Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, said.

Part of the argument for the bill is an alleged shortage of drivers. Some testimony estimates go as high 900,000 truckers needed.

However, advocacy groups say a shortage isn’t reflected properly.

“That number is so far out there, we’re not even sure where it came from. Even some of the most ardent believers of a truck driver shortage don’t put numbers that high out there,” Mike Matousek, owner-operator Independent Drivers Association.

Smaller truck owners say this is going to be dangerous for the trucks and the drivers. Adding that many won’t be able to maneuver the trucks if they get longer, AND THAT the roads may not be able to handle the weights.

“When the maximum weight and length of a vehicle exceeds our infrastructure capabilities, that’s when we have safety and infrastructure issues,” said Arik Spencer of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association.

For the program to start, Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., and Washington lawmakers need to sign off on it. But even if they get federal permission, they may not get federal jurisdiction. Meaning it would be different rules once drivers cross state lines.

This pilot program was brought up during the last session but IT ultimately failed so lawmakers could study the topic. One of the two pieces of legislation needed for implementation passed out of committee, but still has a ways to go.

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