Winter Woes: Commercial Vehicle Ban Causes Headaches For Truck Drivers
DUPONT — A cigarette dangled from Michel Laforge’s lips while he watched Mia, his canine road mate, prance over the slushy parking lot Tuesday afternoon.
The truck driver from Quebec, on his way to Hickory, North Carolina, had been idling at the Petro truck stop in Dupont since 6 a.m. when the second leg of sweeping commercial vehicle bans began for Pennsylvania’s busiest roadways.
His had limited options for killing time.
He could watch a movie inside the truck stop. He could eat lunch, but he didn’t want to spend much money.
Whiling away the time until the storm passed would cost him about $280, he said.
That’s still less than what it would cost if state police pulled him over.
Commercial vehicle drivers found on the road faced a straight fine of $300, which would likely creep above $400 after court costs, said state police spokesman Trooper Bob Urban.
State police can ticket scofflaw drivers under Section 6108 of the Pennsylvania vehicle code, which sets the penalty for violating a governor’s emergency declaration.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed an emergency declaration on Jan. 18, ahead of the storm that struck over the next two days. It remained in effect for Tuesday’s storm.
Troopers wrote 135 tickets during the Jan. 19-20 storm, Urban said. A citation tally wasn’t available for Tuesday’s storm.
Snowfall totals tickled the low end of the forecasted 4 inches to 7 inches before turning to sleet and freezing rain a few hours earlier than expected, leaving just a 2-inch coating across much of the northeast region, said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tom Kines.
Temperatures will remain struggle to climb over freezing today, he said. Travel conditions could remain dicey in spots.
Stepped up bans
PennDOT and state police stepped up use of the commercial vehicle bans, and heavy enforcement of them, following a chaotic storm in November that crippled traffic, Urban said.
The ban Tuesday affected only a fraction of trucks in A. Duie Pyle’s fleet, said Chief Operating Officer John Luciani, who added the company had about 750 trucks on the road throughout the region when it started.
“In areas we cannot reach today, we will put forth our best effort to get those out tomorrow without impacting tomorrow’s schedule,” he said Tuesday.
While it may be cheaper to risk a fine to keep products moving, he said, “it is not worth risking the safety of our drivers or our customer’s shipments.”
In the November storm, state police and road crews frequently found disabled tractor trailers at the head of the logjams, Urban said.
“You’d have people sitting out there for an hour or two hours where you couldn’t get anybody through and the snow kept piling up,” he said. “Next thing you know, everybody is stuck.”
Tuesday’s snowfall totals didn’t measure up to forecasts, but roads still got sloppy, and Urban said a marginal number of noncompliant trucks on the road meant plow drivers could do their jobs better.
Despite a deluge of public announcements and flashing roadside message boards broadcasting the ban Tuesday, state police stayed busy on some stretches of highway pulling over rigs and writing tickets.
“These are independents and owner/operators, maybe some smaller carriers,” said William B. Cassidy, the senior editor for trucking at IHS Markit’s publication The Journal of Commerce.
Independent drivers don’t get paid for idling, nor do they have company dispatchers directing them to abide the ban. That said, they might calculate how much money they’ll lose by stopping compared to the risk of a ticket or causing an accident, then choose to stay on the road.
“There are going to be drivers who look at the weather and say, ‘I’ve driven through worse than this,’” he said.
In some cases, drivers may be racing the clock and trying to get home.
Beyond that, spot rates for shipments not under contract have dropped dramatically from a peak of around $2.45 per mile in June to around $1.90 now, Cassidy said.
“A lot of these guys are looking for freight and they’re making less money, so they may be willing to stay on the road and push through if they think they can,” he said.
Damir Sokolovic, an owner/operator from Michigan on his way through to Connecticut, wasn’t taking the risk.
Back at the Petro truck stop, which was packed with idling rigs, he sloshed back to his sleeper with a sack of food.
He had been there since 8:30 the night before, and around 12:30 p.m., he wasn’t sure when the ban might be lifted.
He complained about how his idling truck burns through about one gallon of gas every hour. Turning it off was an option, but he worried about freezing fuel lines.
He anticipated the storm, so he tacked on a rate premium early to help mitigate any delays and risks.
“I can afford to stay,” he said. “But I don’t think a lot of people can.”
DENISE ALLABAUGH, staff writer, contributed to this report.
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