Senate moves to strengthen law on uncovered trucks

Published 11:44 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fed up with flying gravel and cracked windshields, some lawmakers are seeking to strengthen a 1974 Mississippi law requiring truck drivers to take steps to prevent their loads from spilling onto the highways.

The law reads as if dump trucks and similar vehicles are required to have covered beds. However, the dirt, sand or rock do not have to be covered if the truck maintains six inches of freeboard — the distance between the top of the material and the top of the truck bed holding it in.

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill earlier this month that would strengthen that 35-year-old law, which was one of the most fiercely debated legislative issues in 1974.

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The bill is now up for discussion in the House Transportation Committee.

Senate Highways Committee chairman Tom King, R-Petal, said he’s trying to make the roads safer for the untold numbers of Mississippi motorists who’ve had a windshield chipped by a rock or debris flying out of an uncovered truck bed.

“I’ve got two vehicles now with cracked windshields,” King said. “Many of the trucks now have those signs that read ‘stay back 100 feet,’ but how many people do that? Besides, even if you stay back 200-300 feet, those rocks or other loose material bounce all up and down the road.

“It’s a safety issue, plain and simple,” he said.

The bill would require more trucks to put a tarp over their loads.

Mike Pepper, executive director of the Mississippi Road Builders Association, said if the bill is good for public safety, the association is for it.

“Most of our members are doing this already,” Pepper said about the bill. “If it adds to the safety needs for the public, if it makes the public feel safer, it is fine with us.”

The Mississippi Department of Transportation also supports the bill, said Willie Huff, the agency’s director of enforcement.

“To me, it’s just a commonsense solution to a safety problem,” Huff said.

King said the bill would require trucks and other carriers built with an open top on or after July 1 to cover the load with a tarp, canvas or some sort of top. He said vehicles built before that date and equipped with a tarp or canvas must use the covers.

The bill also adds debris, rubbish and other loose material to sand, gravel and rock already listed in the law. It defines loose material as anything that “may sift through, fall from or otherwise escape from the vehicle carrying the load.”

King said the bill provides that older vehicles not equipped with a canvas, tarp or cover must follow the 6-inch requirement.

State law provides that violations are a misdemeanor carrying fines ranging from $25 to $100 for each incident.

The bill is Senate Bill 3066.