The Bulletin

Youngkin vetoes bill imposing new rules for truckers in snowstorms

By: - April 14, 2022 4:59 pm

A winter storm standed thousands of drivers and passengers on Interstate 95 overnight Monday and into Tuesday. Virginia State Police reported “slow but steady progress” at an emergency crossover in Caroline County Tuesday in getting traffic moving. (Virginia State Police)

The only piece of Virginia legislation inspired by the prolonged shutdown of Interstate 95 during a January snowstorm appears to be stalling out due to a veto by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The bill, which would have prohibited truckers from using cruise control or compression brakes during winter weather, was pitched as a way to reduce jack-knife crashes that can block multiple traffic lanes.

In his veto message, Youngkin noted that the state-commissioned report on the I-95 debacle said nothing about truckers’ cruise control or compression brakes contributing to the crisis. The governor also took issue with language in the bill specifying that police could not pull truckers over for violating the rule.

“Consequently, this bill would impose burdens on Virginia’s trucking industry, as well as interstate transportation, without any demonstrable public safety or transportation benefit,” Youngkin wrote. “More broadly, the Code of Virginia should not be littered with traffic provisions that law enforcement is not authorized to enforce.”

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

In its original form, the bill would’ve required tractor-trailers to stay in the right-hand lane during snowstorms. But Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, the bill’s sponsor, said he changed course based on feedback from the trucking industry, primarily concerns that forcing all trucks into one lane would make it harder for other vehicles to get on or off the highway.

In a press call this week, Marsden called the governor’s explanation “almost comically incompetent.”

“The governor’s argument was based on the fact that he was defending the truckers and not trying to burden them, when they were the ones that gave me the language for the bill,” Marsden said. “So very little effort went into these arguments against the bills.”

Marsden’s bill had passed the Democratic state Senate 26-13. It cleared the Republican House of Delegates 94-4. Youngkin’s veto will be taken up when the legislature reconvenes April 27. Lawmakers in the governor’s party typically vote to sustain vetoes even if they previously supported the bill.

The recently completed report on how the snowstorm brought part of the interstate to a standstill for nearly a full day touched on several trucking issues, without specifically mentioning cruise control or compression brakes.

“There was a rumor that trucks were using the left-hand lanes throughout the event,” the consultants wrote in a footnote. “Analysis of traffic data did not prove this conjecture, however, so we do not address it in this report.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report noted, the volume of tractor-trailers on Virginia interstates increased nearly 30 percent since 2019. That rise was attributed to “increased just-in-time trucking” in response to supply chain issues, as well as trucking companies spreading out their travel hours due to shifts in commuter traffic, with truck traffic now peaking in the early afternoon.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.