The Montgomery County Council, frustrated by the state legislature's inaction for 26 years, passed a bill yesterday requiring truck drivers to cover their loads when using local roads.
Ten states have truck-cover legislation, but efforts to win approval in Maryland and Virginia have become perennial victims of heavy lobbying by the trucking industry. Until now, Harford County had been the only county in Maryland to pass truck-cover legislation, although a Howard County Council member has expressed interest in adopting a similar measure. The District also is considering truck cover legislation.
"We, in Montgomery County, have given up hope that the state legislature will ever pass a truck-cover bill, so I decided to introduce this on the local level to protect our citizens and cars traveling on our county roads," said council member William E. Hanna Jr., who said he has had two windshields cracked by debris flying off a truck.
The council unanimously adopted Hanna's bill requiring truck drivers carrying loose or bulky materials to secure or cover their loads, or face civil and criminal penalties ranging from a $50 fine to 30 days in jail. The bill will go into effect 91 days after it is signed by County Executive Sidney Kramer, who supports it. The bill will apply to all private and commercial trucks carrying gravel, construction materials and other loose items on the 1,873 miles of county roads.
The bill was borne of county frustration with the General Assembly's reluctance, dating to the early 1960s, to pass statewide legislation despite widespread public support but in the face of vigorous opposition from a well-organized trucking industry.
County officials said they hope that their successful enactment and enforcement of the law will prompt Maryland's other 23 jurisdictions to adopt similar legislation, creating a snowball for state legislation.
Although the county law would not apply directly to state or U.S. highways such as the Capital Beltway and I-270, truckers using those roads would become subject to the law when they move onto county roads, a threat that Montgomery officials hope will prompt truckers to cover their loads.
A public hearing on the proposed law earlier this month was dominated by the trucking industry and its attorneys. They objected to the legislation with arguments of safety and economics. They said there is a danger to truckers who would have to climb atop rigs to fasten tarps in all kinds of weather, as well as to motorists if a tarp flies loose.
Many truckers can't afford the cost of the covers, they argued. Merle Steiner, Hanna's aide, said that the covers for a 15 foot dump truck range from $200 to $2,100, for an electric model.
Members of the trucking industry also said the law is not needed. More than 27,000 Maryland motorists filed broken glass claims last year, but truckers said the gravel that causes the damage is often kicked from the ground and doesn't come from trucks.
It is most likely Montgomery's law will be challenged in court.
"It is not if, it is when," said Michael Faden, the council's senior legislative attorney.
Charles Dalrymple, an attorney for the Montgomery County Independent Truckers Association, said that the General Assembly has expressly reserved the right to regulate this field, preempting the counties from any regulation.
Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery), who has spearheaded efforts by county legislators over the last decade for a state truck-cover law, welcomed the move by Montgomery.