Saturday, August 30, 2008

Law says tie litter down

Sgt. Michael Leutert of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office takes photos of an SUV he pulled over that was carrying an unsecured load. Below, Sgt. Leutert speaks with two people inside a white Chevrolet pickup truck about securing their load after pulling them over on Dover Road. (Photos by Jamie Dexter/The Leaf-Chronicle)

Law says tie litter down

By JAMIE DEXTER • The Leaf-Chronicle • August 24, 2008

A white pickup with a load of tree limbs and debris flies down Dover Road.

With nothing securing the debris, they flutter in the wind, dangerously close to flying from the back of the truck.

Sgt. Michael Leutert, of the Environmental Enforcement Unit of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, flips on his lights and follows the truck, pulling it over.

"If tree limbs fall into the middle of the roadway, people might swerve and hit another car, another kid or something and wreck," Leutert said earlier about another vehicle. "That's why we have (the 'tarp law'). ... It needs to be tied down."

The state law Leutert refers to requires anyone carrying material in the back of a pickup or on a trailer — be it limbs, debris, trash or anything else — to secure it "as to reasonably ensure it will not fall or be blown off the vehicle."

This could mean covering it with a tarp if the debris is small, or tying larger pieces down with cables.

With some debris, safety isn't the only concern — some trash can be harmful to the environment or require road crews to clean up the mess.

"I've seen construction debris where someone tore out walls, and it's covered in pink insulation, and that stuff flies off going down the road. How many years do you think it takes for that stuff to decompose into the Earth?" Leutert says. "Basically, it'll have to be picked up."

Leutert added that even with two litter buses, it's amazing how much debris and garbage is on the road, even after the road has been cleaned by workhouse inmates.

"A percentage of this waste comes from people not securing their loads," Leutert says.

Leutert said in the five years he's been enforcing these laws, word has gotten around, and he's seeing more and more people securing their loads, but he says he still has to work to educate people about the laws.

Some don't know about the laws, he says, and some just don't care.

"Some people just don't have a clue," he says. "So I have to be the person that gives them a clue ... ignorance of the law is not an excuse."

If someone who has a load that should be covered and secured is pulled over, that "clue" could end up amounting to around $500 in fines, court costs and community service.

"It could end up being at least $700 for not doing a simple thing to help keep the roadways clean," Leutert says.

For those hauling other loose material in smaller amounts, the material has to be four inches below the the walls of an open bed, according to state law.

Being pulled over in violation of that law can amount to around $201 in fines and court costs.

And if anyone knowingly throws litter, including cigarette butts, onto the road, they can be fined.

Leutert says when he patrols, he checks to make sure people carrying a load have done whatever they can to keep anything from falling into the road.

"You can easily tell after doing this a while who does and who doesn't," Leutert says. "The penalties for not following state law are pretty severe. Tennessee does not take kindly to litter."

While some, including those in the white truck, might drive away with a ticket in hand, fuming about the fines they will be paying, Leutert says it's all for a good reason.

Says Leutert: "The sheriff (Norman Lewis) and Pete Reed, director of the Bi-County, and myself all have a common goal — to keep Montgomery County cleaner and, in return, safer by continuing efforts in the Environmental Enforcement side of the law enforcement house."

Jamie Dexter covers crime and entertainment and he can be reached at 245-0216 or

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wayward Trailers Hit Random Targets

Note: Please take note of this section:

Decades ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made proposals for federal standards on hitches and requiring safety instructions for motorists who would tow trailers. These proposed federal regulations were resisted by manufacturers and rental companies, and US transportation authorities finally dropped them in 1972.

The next time you meet or follow a truck towing a trailer on the highway, you should be very wary and steer clear. The trailer could easily separate from the truck, and you could be in trouble.

Unbeknownst to many motorists, runaway trailers have caused a number of devastating crashes across the country, resulting in deaths and serious injuries.

There are no statistics on a nationwide scale on accidents caused by runaway trailers. There have been reports that recorded 540 trailer crashes from 2000, causing deaths to at least 164 people and injuries to hundreds more. These are sketchy numbers and probably are huge understatements of the actual frequency.

Majority of the victims in wayward trailer crashes are helpless motorists. The trailers, once they break loose, become like unguided projectiles running into an oncoming vehicle. In some cases, oncoming vehicles trying to avoid the speeding trailer crash into other vehicles instead. Trailers have also hit pedestrians, including children waiting at a bus stop, or rammed into bedrooms.

Many crashes are the result of neglect: the failure to follow proper precautions and safety procedures in attaching the trailer to the truck. A 2006 survey on 300 trailer owners found that a majority did not even know how to attach a trailer’s safety chains properly. Most lacked knowledge of basic safety methods and proper towing practice.

There are federal and state regulations on commercial trailers. But there is virtually no federal regulation, and only haphazard state rules, on smaller trailers.

Decades ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made proposals for federal standards on hitches and requiring safety instructions for motorists who would tow trailers. These proposed federal regulations were resisted by manufacturers and rental companies, and US transportation authorities finally dropped them in 1972.

State regulations are almost nonexistent, and where they exist there is no active enforcement. A number of states do not require safety chains — which are the most fundamental protection — for light-duty trailers. But accident reports show that safety chains, when used, were too rusted or worn to do much good.

For bigger trailers with brakes, many states require a backup system that automatically applies the brakes when a trailer comes loose. But accident reports also show that in many accidents such systems were not operating because the battery that supplied the system power was dead.

There are a few laws, but there is no one enforcing them.

Safety experts say motorists should be required to qualify for a special license in order to tow small to medium-size trailers. Currently, in all 50 states, you only need to have a basic driver’s license to tow.

Safety tip:
* Make sure the trailer is securely hitched to the tow vehicle. A trailer’s coupler will not hitch securely if it is wider than the hitch ball on the tow vehicle.
* Always attach the safety chain. It keeps the trailer attached in case the hookup fails.
* When buying a trailer, ask your dealer for proper techniques and instruction on hitching trailers. Many techniques are common sense, but some are not and need special instruction.

Motorists beware of trailers' risks

Q: There are many people with trailers on the road these days. Not just small trailers, but horse trailers and other large units as well. People need to be on the lookout for trailers, and should know how not to drive around them: Aggressive driving and cutting off vehicles pulling trailers is particularly dangerous. Trailer-haulers can't stop on a dime, and it takes considerable space for them to make turns or change lanes. Other motorists need to give them enough room.

Jacqueline Greener


A: Good points, Jacqueline.

The Warrior has a true confession tale to relate wherein he nearly caused a horrific accident simply by failing to put the brakes on his temper.

On Interstate 78 eastbound, east of Harrisburg, near dusk, the Warrior was ''boxed in'' for what seemed like forever (probably five minutes) by a guy in the passing lane to his left, maintaining the Warrior's too-slow speed without reason.

By the time the full-size sedan finally inched ahead, the Warrior was so frustrated he resolved to zoom dramatically into the passing lane, right behind the car, the instant its rear bumper cleared. His thinking went along the lines of, ''I'll show this guy what I think of his driving!''

Perhaps by instinct, the Warrior must have glanced left at the last instant, and there was enough light remaining to illuminate the outline of one of those low, steel-frame trailers -- this one bearing a snowmobile.

Jerking the wheel back to the right, the Warrior stayed in the travel lane for a few more seconds until the trailer cleared. He'd nearly slammed his car directly into its side, snowmobile and all. The insane maneuver, fueled by an absurd sense of vengeance, likely escaped the trailer-tower's notice.

This story illustrates the roadway mentality to which many of us succumb at one time or another, emotion overtaking clarity of thought. Something about modern-day vehicles and driving conditions can bring out the worst in us. A conscious, sustained effort is needed to overcome this tendency -- an effort the Warrior tries to make, not always with success.

The experience also illustrates how dangerous it can be driving trailers, and driving among them.

Accident statistics comparing civilian trailer-towing to single-vehicle driving are rare, and controversial. U-Haul, for example, contends that towing a trailer actually is safer than traveling unattached, but a Los Angeles Times report last year revealed considerable skepticism of the claim from traffic-safety experts.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration advises motorists new to the trailer-towing game to practice in parking lots or in low-traffic areas before hitting the road for real.

Terry Ritter of Schaeffer's RV Super Store in Shoemakersville, Berks County, said store personnel take buyers for short test drives to make sure they gain some sense of towing practices. And safe-driving procedures and road conditions are discussed at monthly owners' clinics, he said.

NHTSA offers a truckload of safety tips for folks towing trailers.

For general handling, the agency recommends moderate speeds (translation: slow down!) to minimize trailer sway and instability, not to mention wear and tear on the vehicle doing the pulling. Trailer towing can be tough on engines and transmissions.

Experts also caution against sudden starts, stops and steering maneuvers, and note that motorists pulling trailers need to make wider turns to avoid bumping or crossing curbs with the trailer's tires.

(That's also the answer, incidentally, to a query from Vince Julian Jr. of Nazareth as to why some motorists, even those without trailers, make a slight jog to the left before turning right at intersections. It's intended to gain a better angle for the turn, to avoid hitting the curb with the right rear wheel. But wheel-strikes are rare for average-size cars, and the ''hook'' move to the left is not recommended for general practice.)

Allowing ''considerably more'' stopping distance with trailers, and slowing in anticipation of stops, by downshifting for example, are advisable braking practices. Passing on level terrain, allowing extra passing distance, and ensuring the trailer clears before returning to the travel lane are among NHTSA's other recommendations.

Tips and information about backing up and parking, and other trailer safety advice are available from the agency's Web site, and from numerous trade groups.

''Regular'' motorists with trailers in their midst should observe the familiar rules regarding civilian trailers' big brothers, tractor-trailers, Ritter said: Don't follow too closely behind -- if you can't see a trailer's outside rear-view mirrors, the driver can't see you.

With some common sense, and with mutual awareness among trailer-towers and the rest of us, we can hope to travel together without incident.

Just watch out for those snowmobile trailers.

Road Warrior appears Mondays and Fridays. E-mail questions about roadways, traffic and transportation to Please include your name and the municipality where you live. Or, write to Road Warrior, The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA 18101-1480.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gov. Easley rejects plan to ease boat towing rules

Gov. Easley rejects plan to ease boat towing rules

By Whitney Woodward
Associated Press

Gov. Mike Easley made good on a lingering veto threat Sunday when he rejected a bill which would have eased boat towing restrictions for North Carolina motorists.

"I sincerely believe that this bill puts families at a risk on the highways and would result in death or serious injury," Easley said in a statement announcing the action.

The rejected legislation would have allowed drivers to pull boats up to 10 feet wide on any day of the week without first obtaining a special permit. Motorists also would have been allowed to tow watercraft up to 9 1/2 feet wide at night.

Current state law allows boats up to 8 1/2 feet wide to be towed only during daylight hours on weekdays.

In pushing for the legislation this summer, lawmakers had said the current law jeopardized North Carolina's ability to host competitive fishing tournaments and severely limited North Carolina boaters' ability to take weekend trips.

The governor had until midnight on Sunday to veto or sign into law legislation that lawmakers had approved before adjourning July 18. If Easley did not take action on the bills - including the boat towing measure - they would have become law.

The veto should come as no surprise to lawmakers.

In July, top Easley aide Franklin Freeman told House and Senate lawmakers that the governor thought the measure was unsafe.

Easley echoed that Sunday, saying North Carolina has 60,000 miles of two-lane roads which are too narrow to accommodate 9 1/2 foot-wide boats safely. That means those watercraft would run over the center line and into oncoming traffic, he said.

"Further, if two 9-1/2 foot boats were to meet on an 18-foot strip of road or bridge it would be physically impossible to escape a collision," Easley said in his statement.

The bill now returns to the General Assembly, where legislative leaders will decide whether to accept Easley's veto or try to override it. Easley urged lawmakers to wait until next year to revise the law so there is ample time to study the consequences of the legislation.

To revive the measure, three-fifths of the House and Senate members present in each chamber would need to vote for the measure.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously. The House approved it 108-5.

A spokesman for House Speaker Joe Hackney said Sunday evening that legislative leaders have yet to decide whether they will try to override the veto.

Bill sponsor Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, said he's confident there are enough supporters to override the veto, should the General Assembly come back to Raleigh.

Williams challenged Easley's claims that the measure is unsafe, saying that the wider boats would be resting on the same sized trailers and that an extra five or six inches on each side would not jeopardize motorists' safety.

"They've been running those boats up and down the highways of North Carolina since 1982," Williams said. "They haven't had a lot of accidents."

The General Assembly has never overridden a veto in the 11 years since it granted North Carolina governors the power to reject legislation.

Easley, now nearing the end of his second four-year term, is the only governor to use the authority.

Legislature should more closely examine boat hauling issues

Legislature should more closely examine boat hauling issues

Earlier this week, Senate leader Marc Basnight said he wants to bring lawmakers back to Raleigh to override Gov. Mike Easley’s veto of a bill that would allow trailers to haul wider boats on state roads.

The measure originated in the House, so Basnight indicated he was waiting for House Speaker Joe Hackney to make the first move, according to a story in The News & Observer. Hackney is checking to see whether House members want to come back to Raleigh for an override vote, a spokesman for the speaker told the News & Observer.


The message the speaker ought to get back from lawmakers is a considered “No.”

The governor is right to place highway safety over all other considerations, but he’s also right in urging lawmakers take up the bill again in January, “when there is time to thoughtfully avoid the consequences” of the present bill.

The bill Easley vetoed would allow drivers to pull boats up to 10 feet wide on any day of the week without first obtaining a special permit. It would also allow motorists to tow watercraft up to 9 1/2 feet wide at night. Current law restricts the width of boats being towed to 8 1/2 feet and allows towing only during daylight hours on weekends.

Boaters’ concerns

The bill resulted from concerns raised by boaters after the N.C. Highway Patrol stopped several anglers in late summer 2007 and gave them tickets that resulted in large fines or fees for illegally trailering their boats, according to reports in “North Carolina Sportsman.”

Concerned boaters began calling the Highway Patrol and the Division of Motor Vehicles wanting to know exactly what the state’s trailering laws were and how to comply. A variety of official answers led to more confusion, according to North Carolina Sportsman. But, among other things, boaters learned that the laws had been in effect for years, but in the past the Highway Patrol considered them more applicable to commercial haulers, not individuals towing personal boats.

A forum at UNC Wilmington drew a large crowd in May and several East Coast lawmakers promised to introduce legislation to get the laws “straightened out,” according to the magazine.

The bill Easley vetoed is the only one of several that made it all the way through the legislative process, the magazine reported. Lawmakers supported it overwhelmingly in both the House, where the vote was 108-5, and the Senate, which voted 43-0 for it.

Width problems

Easley’s objections are that North Carolina has 60,000 miles of narrow two-lane roads and maintains roughly 1,000 bridges 18 feet wide or less, which would require 9 1/2 foot boats to cross the centerline in violation of state law.

He also objected to allowing boats as wide as 9 1/2 feet to be towed anytime, day or night, without a permit “as required by all other states from Texas to Virginia.” Another failure of the bill in Easley’s view is that it doesn’t restrict the blood alcohol level of those doing the towing to less than .08, which is double the amount allowed by commercial vehicles of smaller size.

Rep. Arthur Williams, a Beaufort Democrat, challenged Easley’s claims that the measure is unsafe.

“They’ve been running those boats up and down the highways of North Carolina since 1982,” Williams said. “They haven’t had a lot of accidents.”

Coastal interests

The issue is an important one for coastal communities, which depend on out-of-town boaters who come for fishing tournaments and other recreational opportunities for tourism revenue. It’s also important from the standpoint that North Carolina has a growing boat-building industry, exemplified by Palmer Marine’s new plant in Bladen County, that it has worked diligently to recruit. Being seen as a state that makes it hard for recreational boaters to tow their boats would do little to help those efforts.

The industry has been hit hard by the economic slowdown. Maverick Boat Co. is closing its manufacturing plant in Marion as of Aug. 28 and consolidating production in Fort Pierce, Ga., after Cobia boat sales were down 29 percent in June, usually the busiest month.

“Our country is in a recession, and our industry is in a massive downturn,” Maverick Boat CEO Scott Deal said. “We expect market conditions to improve and plan to resume production in Marion the very minute conditions allow.”

The state needs to do all it can to encourage boat builders like Maverick to return or bring jobs to North Carolina.

In Florida, according to North Carolina Sportsman, boats can be towed a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset if the towed vehicle isn’t more than 10 feet wide. Other states also have laws that are less restrictive than North Carolina’s current law.

Even so, the governor’s safety concerns shouldn’t be dismissed. Those of us who live in the western part of the state know how dangerous narrow, curvy roads can be for wide vehicles. A compromise might be to lower the permitted blood alcohol content to below .04 and to allow the Highway Patrol to ban trailering wide boats on roads with narrow bridges or where it would otherwise be dangerous.

That’s something lawmakers can debate in the next session, beginning in January. The governor’s veto should stand.