Washington state bill targets bad trucks, reckless drivers

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Washington state lawmakers want to make it easier to shut down state companies with bad trucks and reckless drivers, the Seattle Times reported today, Feb. 7. Currently, companies operating only inside the state avoid many federal truck-safety regulations, but House Bill 1307 would grant the Washington State Patrol more authority to monitor, inspect and penalize those carriers. The bill requires committee approval before reaching the House floor.

According to the Times, the legislation was prompted by an October 2005 accident in which two men were killed when a truck driven by Garland Massingham, of Centralia, dumped a load of logs onto the men’s car. Prosecutors said Massingham was on methamphetamine and driving an overloaded truck too fast into a curve when the accident occurred; he pleaded guilty last month to two counts of vehicular homicide, the Times reported.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park, told the Times that “it is totally unacceptable” that Massingham not only caused the accident but continued to drive a truck until he lost another load last November. Last month, he was sentenced to 41/2 years in prison for the deaths, but Kagi told the Times she worries dangerous trucks and truckers remain on Washington roads. State Patrol officers do not have a good way to track dangerous drivers and their companies, nor do they have much authority to inspect trucks before an accident happens, Kagi told the Times.

The legislation would require commercial vehicles operating only inside Washington, and weighing more than 26,000 pounds or carrying hazardous materials, to have U.S. Department of Transportation identification numbers. The numbers, which are mandatory for commercial vehicles that cross state lines, would be used to track safety infractions so the State Patrol could focus on companies with the worst safety records. The Patrol could keep all of a company’s trucks off the road if one is deemed unsafe or if there are other violations, such as refusing an inspection or lacking a proper identification number, until fines were paid and any problems were fixed.

The Patrol and the Washington Trucking Association support increased truck safety, but farmers are concerned about the bill, the Times reported; in addition to lacking the identification numbers, some agricultural trucks do not have license plates because they never leave the farm. Farm lobbyist Chris Cheney told the Times he worries that one bad truck could shut down a whole fleet at the peak of a harvest.