After I-95 shutdown, Senate committee approves restrictions on truckers during wintry weather

By: - February 11, 2022 12:02 am

A winter storm stranded hundreds of drivers and passengers on Interstate 95 in early January. (Virginia Department of Transportation)

The Senate Transportation Committee advanced a bill Thursday requiring truckers driving in wintry weather to stay in the right lane of any highway and making it illegal to use cruise control or compression release engine brakes. 

Senate Bill 706 which requires that truckers, “if reasonably possible and conditions safely permit, drive the vehicle in the right-most lane of any highway”  during snow, sleet and freezing rain — cleared the committee on a 10-5 vote. That came after an amendment that prevents police from stopping drivers to enforce other portions of the bill prohibiting the use of cruise control or the compression release engine brakes (also called “Jake brakes“) during winter weather. 

The chair of the committee, Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, introduced the bill following the I-95 shutdown caused in part by tractor-trailer wrecks during a snowstorm at the beginning of the year.

Outside firm to investigate Virginia’s I-95 response

“We’re just trying to tighten up to the degree that we can,” Marsden said. “We still have to wait for the autopsy on what happened that day and who’s involved.”

Marsden said the bill is an attempt to prevent truck drivers from doing “foolish” things such as attempting to pass other drivers in snowy and icy conditions. The bill only applies to trucks and trailers or semitrailers, not pick-up trucks or panel trucks. 

Dale Bennett, president of the Virginia Trucking Association, said the bill would help send a message to truck drivers and lower the risk of accidents in the future. 

Given that there is no timeline for the multi-agency after-action review to examine the state’s response to the shutdown that left hundreds of people stranded on the highway, Marsden wanted to introduce a bill to address part of the problem before the session ended, he said. He expects the bill to pass the Senate with a narrow margin. 

“That’s as far as we can go, and we had five people uncomfortable with even doing that much,” he said.

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Virginia Mercury intern Jackie Llanos Hernandez is a junior at the University of Richmond studying journalism and anthropology. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian. She can be reached at [email protected]

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