Legislature(1997 - 1998)

02/24/1998 01:35 PM TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
           SENATE TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE                                     
                  February 24, 1998                                            
                      1:35 p.m.                                                
                                                                               
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                
                                                                               
Senator Jerry Ward, Chairman                                                   
Senator Gary Wilken, Vice Chair                                                
Senator Lyda Green                                                             
Senator Rick Halford                                                           
Senator Georgianna Lincoln                                                     
                                                                               
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                 
                                                                               
None                                                                           
                                                                               
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                             
                                                                               
SENATE BILL NO. 304                                                            
"An Act relating to regulation of highways and motor vehicles; and             
providing for an effective date."                                              
     HEARD AND HELD                                                            
                                                                               
PREVIOUS SENATE ACTION                                                         
                                                                               
SB 304 - No previous action.                                                   
                                                                               
WITNESS REGISTER                                                               
                                                                               
Senator Dave Donley                                                            
Alaska State Capitol                                                           
Juneau, Alaska  99801-1182                                                     
POSITION STATEMENT:  Sponsor of SB 304                                         
                                                                               
Henry Springer                                                                 
Associated General Contractors of Alaska                                       
4041 B Street                                                                  
Anchorage, Alaska  99503                                                       
POSITION STATEMENT:  Supports SB 304                                           
                                                                               
Captain Ted Bachman                                                            
Alaska State Troopers                                                          
Department of Public Safety                                                    
5700 E. Tudor Road                                                             
Anchorage, Alaska  99507-1225                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Commented on SB 304                                        
                                                                               
Don Shannon                                                                    
Governor's Safety Advisory Council                                             
232 Bentley Drive                                                              
Fairbanks, Alaska  99701                                                       
POSITION STATEMENT:  Commented on SB 304                                       
                                                                               
Juanita Hensley, Chief                                                         
Driver Services                                                                
Department of Administration                                                   
P.O. Box 20020                                                                 
Juneau, Alaska  99811-0020                                                     
POSITION STATEMENT: Commented on SB 304                                        
                                                                               
Dennis Pouchard                                                                
Department of Transportation and Public Safety                                 
3132 Channel Drive                                                             
Juneau, Alaska 99801-7898                                                      
POSITION STATEMENT:  Supports Sections 4 and 5                                 
                                                                               
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                               
                                                                               
TAPE 98-4, SIDE A                                                              
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WARD called the Senate Transportation Committee meeting to            
order at 1:35 p.m.  Present were Senators Ward, Wilken, Halford and            
Green.  SB 304 was up for consideration.                                       
                                                                               
          SB 304 - REGULATION OF MOTOR VEHICLES & HWYS                         
                                                                               
SENATOR DAVE DONLEY, sponsor of SB 304, explained the primary                  
intent of the bill is to double fines for moving traffic violations            
in construction zones in Alaska, in an effort to protect highway               
construction workers.  SB 304 was requested by the Alaska                      
Associated General Contractors (AAGC) and is supported by unions               
representing those workers.  Serious work zone accidents have                  
occurred in Alaska and other states have implemented a similar                 
system of increasing fines within work zone areas to protect                   
workers in those areas.  In addition, SB 304 contains several other            
provisions.  Section 2 amends the current statute that contains                
items for which points are not awarded to drivers for certain types            
of violations.  It adds the offense of driving at between 55 mph               
and 65 mph on a divided highway that has a maximum speed limit of              
55 mph, if the driving was not reckless or negligent.  In such a               
case, the driver would receive a ticket that would not apply to the            
point system that is cause for an increase in insurance rates.                 
Section 2 also adds a provision so that traffic citations issued by            
an entity other than a member of a police force, such as photo-                
radar, would not increase points on one's driver's license.                    
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY informed committee members that Section 3 affirms               
driving tradition in many other states and requires drivers to                 
remain in the right lane unless passing.  He believes that                     
tradition has not developed in Alaska because Alaska has not had               
many divided highways.  This provision would create a safer and                
more efficient flow of traffic.  He noted SB 304 does not deal with            
criminal law, only with traffic violations.                                    
                                                                               
Number 106                                                                     
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD asked Senator Donley if he had any information on              
the accident rate in construction zones in Alaska.                             
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY replied he has many articles and research from other            
states regarding this issue but nothing specific to Alaska.                    
According to the National Work Zone Fatalities 1994 report, 33                 
people were killed nationwide.  He noted there has been a movement             
to adopt similar legislation in Utah, South Carolina and Texas and             
as a former construction worker, he pointed out he is personally               
aware of the dangers involved in work zones on highways.                       
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD stated on rural roads, construction signs might be             
posted for a month, when workers might only be there for four hours            
during that time.  He asked Senator Donley if he thought about                 
specifying that the provision only applies in active construction              
zones.  He noted often construction signs are posted to warn                   
drivers of hazardous road conditions rather than actual                        
construction.                                                                  
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY said he thought the Department of Transportation and            
Public Facilities (DOTPF) has very strict and specific regulations             
regarding when and which construction signs can be posted because              
it recognizes that the signage must be accurate or the public will             
begin to disbelieve and discount it.  He pointed out that making               
the language specific to active construction zones would create an             
affirmative defense, and be problematic for enforcement officials,             
because people would argue they were not aware of any activity.  He            
thought the Legislature should encourage DOTPF to enforce its                  
existing regulations on contractors to ensure the signs are                    
accurate.                                                                      
                                                                               
Number 191                                                                     
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD explained the problem is not with the contractors              
as much as it is with the regional offices of DOTPF.  When a grader            
operator starts down the Denali Highway, he puts out a sign warning            
of roadwork ahead.  The operator might grade for 40 miles and do               
the same on the return trip the next day, yet the sign has remained            
there the entire time even though there is no construction within              
20 miles of the sign.  He said it probably is not worth paying                 
someone to pick up the sign, yet he thought it is unreasonable to              
change the speed limit and double the fine.                                    
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY agreed those situations do occur however he                     
clarified that SB 304 does not directly impact the speed limit, it             
doubles the fine if a driver violates the speed limit in a                     
construction zone.                                                             
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD pointed out his concern is that a driver could get             
a double fine for driving 50 in a 45 mph speed zone because a                  
grader is 30 miles away.                                                       
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY said one can discuss hypothetical situations for any            
bill because there is always a circumstance that does not fit.  He             
added police officers usually use good discretion when enforcing               
traffic violations.                                                            
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD said he does not disagree that the affirmative                 
defense might have a negative effect but his concern about small               
projects in rural areas remains.                                               
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WARD announced Senator Lincoln was present.                           
                                                                               
Number 241                                                                     
                                                                               
SENATOR LINCOLN questioned who the language on page 2, line 6 that             
reads "traffic citations that are issued by a person who is not a              
member of the police force of the state or a municipality"  refers             
to.                                                                            
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY said that could apply to Anchorage parking authority            
employees or photo radar.                                                      
                                                                               
SENATOR LINCOLN thought that language was too open-ended.  She also            
expressed concern with language on page 2, line 26, that says                  
"whether or not work is actually being done at that time."  She                
questioned why the same regulation would be imposed when the                   
workforce is not at the site if the purpose of the bill is to                  
protect the workforce.                                                         
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY said that provision was included because often                  
people cannot tell whether the construction site is active.  If the            
bill says it is okay to drive faster if the driver cannot see                  
anyone working, it will seriously dilute protection to the workers             
on the road.                                                                   
                                                                               
SENATOR LINCOLN asked whether a fiscal note had been requested.                
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WARD informed committee members DOTPF had just delivered              
the fiscal note.                                                               
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY said despite what the statutes say, no fiscal note              
is prepared until a bill is scheduled for a hearing.                           
                                                                               
SENATOR WILKEN referred to language on page 2, line 2, and said he             
drives between Anchorage and Fairbanks several times each year and             
has questioned how DOTPF and the Troopers classify some of the 65              
mph sections, which he thinks are dangerous.  He is concerned that             
the message in SB 304 is that it is kind of okay to speed a little.            
He asked the sponsor to reconsider the inclusion of that language              
because it does not do much for the bill.                                      
                                                                               
Number 316                                                                     
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY reported this idea originated before the oil                    
embargo, when the speed limit on all interstate highways was 70                
mph.  It then suddenly became unsafe to drive at 70 mph so the                 
speed limit was reduced to 55 mph.  The State of Oregon issued                 
energy citations rather than speeding tickets to those driving                 
between 55 and 70 mph unless the driver was reckless, in which case            
he/she would be issued a speeding ticket.  He noted the provision              
only applies to divided highways and most of the road between                  
Anchorage and Fairbanks is still two-lanes.  He thought SB 304                 
offers a middle ground to increasing speed limits to 65 mph.  The              
bill encourages people to drive at 55 mph but recognizes that                  
people should not be overly punished for doing so if there is no               
danger involved.                                                               
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD asked where the road between Anchorage and                     
Fairbanks is divided with a 55 mph speed limit.  He pointed out SB
304 would not apply to that road because the speed limit is 65                 
coming out of Anchorage and remains so anywhere the highway is                 
divided.                                                                       
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WARD asked Senator Donley what ticketing procedure the                
military police use in construction zones at Ft. Richardson.                   
SENATOR DONLEY did not know.                                                   
                                                                               
SENATOR GREEN asked what the upper fine limit is for an infraction.            
SENATOR DONLEY replied those amounts are contained in a bail                   
schedule adopted by the Supreme Court; he was unsure of the dollar             
amount.                                                                        
                                                                               
SENATOR GREEN asked for clarification of the phrase "dense traffic             
conditions" on line 15, page 2.                                                
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY said it was a guideline to give the enforcement                 
officers clarification that there are times when driving in both               
lanes is necessary, such as during traffic jams.                               
                                                                               
SENATOR GREEN questioned whether the requirement to drive in the               
right lane is a duplication of existing statute.                               
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY replied one could read the existing law that way,               
but that is not how it is being enforced.  In his discussions with             
police officers, he was told there is no law that requires people              
to remain in the right lane on divided highways.                               
                                                                               
SENATOR GREEN said she did not think a driver could be cited for               
driving full speed in the left lane if the driver was not driving              
recklessly.                                                                    
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD said a lot of states post signs warning slower                 
traffic to keep right.  Those states have an enforceable law as the            
basis for those signs.  In some states it is also illegal to pass              
on the right on a divided highway.  He added it is the combination             
of those two driving practices that allow for phenomenal speed                 
differences on the same roads with fewer accidents in Europe.                  
                                                                               
HENRY SPRINGER, Executive Director of the Associated General                   
Contractors of Alaska, made the following comments via                         
teleconference.  He has been concerned about construction zone                 
safety for about 10 years and although it looks simple on the                  
surface, it is a complex problem.  He suggested distinguishing                 
between construction zones and maintenance operations because there            
are obvious differences.  Construction zones should be considered              
those areas of the highway that are under some kind of contractual             
work obligation by a contractor with the owner, in most cases the              
state or a municipality.  The question of who has ultimate                     
responsibility and liability for safety for the workforce and                  
traveling public within those zones is a gray area.  Court                     
decisions have favored both sides. Consequently, contracts contain             
detailed provisions that spell out traffic safety.  The safety of              
both the workers and traveling public in construction zones is                 
different than in areas with unrestricted flow patterns.  From a               
statistical standpoint, 700 people were killed and 5,000 were                  
injured in the United States in accidents within road construction             
sites last year.  Most of the accidents were the direct result of              
excessive speed.  In 1996 there were two fatalities in Alaska                  
within construction zones.  What is not known is the high number of            
injuries.                                                                      
                                                                               
In regard to Senator Halford's concern about maintenance                       
operations, MR. SPRINGER said those operations are usually                     
advertised and speed restrictions do not apply.  The signs posted              
in those situations are usually advisory and have no power of law              
behind them.  Even in construction zones where no workers are                  
present, there are concerns from a liability standpoint because the            
normal safety standards in regard to roadway conditions are not in             
compliance with the national standards.  Therefore, the presence of            
workers is not the sole criteria for SB 304.                                   
                                                                               
Because of legal complications that surround this issue, MR.                   
SPRINGER said states with successful laws have the same approach               
used in SB 304; doubling the points for infractions within                     
construction zones.  The physical application is simple;                       
contractors can put up signs informing drivers the fines are                   
doubled within that construction area.   He concluded by saying SB
304 does not present an inconvenience to the traveling public, it              
provides increased safety efforts for workers and the traveling                
public and has a positive effect on liability for the road owner               
and contractor.                                                                
                                                                               
Number 519                                                                     
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD stated he agrees with the intent of SB 304 but                 
asked Mr. Springer if he could suggest language to alleviate his               
concerns about including maintenance operations.                               
                                                                               
MR. SPRINGER answered in his 20 years of road maintenance work                 
throughout the Interior and outside of Nome, he is not aware of any            
standing operating procedure that would change speed limits with               
advanced warnings of maintenance operations.  Typically the minimum            
requirements under the Uniform Traffic Control Standards are that              
warning signs be posted about impeding restrictions to the                     
operations.  He was unaware of any instances where the speed limit             
is restricted.                                                                 
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD clarified the bill was drafted to double the fine              
for any speed violation, whether there is a further restriction on             
speed or not.                                                                  
                                                                               
MR. SPRINGER maintained that is correct, but explained that when               
maintenance on the Denali Highway occurs, a warning sign is posted             
but the speed limit remains the same.  In a construction zone, a               
speed limit restriction could be imposed.                                      
                                                                               
Number 555                                                                     
                                                                               
CAPTAIN TED BACHMAN, staff assistant to the Director of the Alaska             
State Troopers (AST), testified via teleconference.   AST does not             
oppose the provision regarding highway work zone areas because it              
is primarily involved in enforcement, not in fines.  Regarding                 
Senator Halford's request for clarifying language, Captain Bachman             
suggested crafting language to put the burden of proof as to                   
whether construction was occurring at the time on the violator.                
AST does have two concerns.  The first pertains to not giving                  
points to a violator for driving 65 mph in a 55 mph zone; AST                  
believes this is a safety issue.  Fatality statistics almost                   
dropped off the chart after speed limits were reduced in reaction              
to the oil embargo.  He suggested reviewing the posted speed limits            
on highways and changing them where appropriate, rather than                   
modifying the point system which is designed to identify                       
chronically poor drivers.  AST's second concern is that the third              
part of SB 304 mirrors 13AAC 02.005 which pertains to traffic                  
regulations.  That regulation requires people to drive on the right            
side of the roadway.  He agreed with Senator Green that police                 
officers would be hard pressed to cite a driver who is driving at              
the speed limit in the left lane.  A person driving slower than                
other traffic in the left lane could be cited under another                    
regulation, 13AAC 02.050, entitled "Obedience to Posted Traffic                
Control Devices."  He thought the issue is one of driver training,             
rather than the need for a new statute.                                        
                                                                               
TAPE 98-4, SIDE B                                                              
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD questioned whether there is a provision in the                 
Alaska Administrative Code that requires a driver to pull over if              
there are a certain number of cars behind him/her, to let those                
drivers pass.                                                                  
                                                                               
CAPTAIN BACHMAN said that provision is also in 13AAC 02.050.                   
                                                                               
SENATOR GREEN asked Captain Bachman if he knew what the upper fine             
limit is on infractions.                                                       
                                                                               
CAPTAIN BACHMAN believed the maximum fine limit on an infraction is            
$300 unless otherwise stated in statute.  He clarified it is the               
judge who ultimately sets the fine.                                            
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY asked Captain Bachman if he saw any problem with                
placing Section 3 in statute, since that provision is already in               
regulation.                                                                    
                                                                               
CAPTAIN BACHMAN replied the language in Section 3 does create some             
ambiguities that could be misinterpreted.  He noted when he                    
reviewed Section 3 he questioned whether a driver could use the                
left lane to continuously overtake vehicles, and whether a driver              
could use the left lane to overtake a vehicle one mile ahead.  He              
questioned who would decide what "dense traffic conditions" means.             
Finally, he was unsure what problem would be solved by the statute             
if traffic conditions were not dense.                                          
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY pointed out the existing regulations seem a lot more            
vague than the language in SB 304.                                             
                                                                               
CAPTAIN BACHMAN replied he could not disagree that particular                  
regulation could be better crafted.                                            
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD suggested reviewing passer keep right statutes from            
other states to find the most simple and concise one.                          
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY thought Captain Bachman's concerns were reasonable              
because enforcement officials want as much guidance as they can                
get.  He noted however, traffic issues cannot always be described              
in four pages.  He said he included a June 30, 1999 effective date             
to provide plenty of time for public education. SB 304 will require            
discretionary calls on the part of Troopers, but many traffic laws             
do, such as reckless driving.                                                  
                                                                               
DON SHANNON, a member of the Governor's Safety Advisory Council,               
and a former surveyor and road construction worker, stated support             
for parts of SB 304.  He believes worker conditions in highway work            
zones are dangerous enough to warrant the new offense.  Hawaii                 
uses policemen as flagmen.  If a driver does not slow down, the                
policeman issues a citation.  When a company is working on a road,             
it should become like the owner of the road until the job is                   
completed.  He pointed out HB 87 passed out of the House Judiciary             
Committee the previous day.  That bill also doubles fines for                  
speeding in a work zone.                                                       
                                                                               
SENATOR WILKEN indicated his previous comment about tacit approval             
of speeding was directed to the Richardson Highway between                     
Fairbanks and Eielson.  He asked Mr. Shannon if he shares the same             
concern to prevent people from speeding on that highway.                       
                                                                               
MR. SHANNON said on parts of it he would.  He noted, as a flagman,             
many drivers questioned how he could dare stop them when driving on            
their road.                                                                    
                                                                               
Number 478                                                                     
                                                                               
JUANITA HENSLEY, Chief of the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV),                
gave the following testimony.  DMV's only concern is with Section              
2.  The traffic point system was designed to get habitual traffic              
law violators off of the road.  To do away with points on a                    
speeding citation tells drivers they can speed with no                         
repercussions other than a small fine.  She explained the bail                 
schedule for violation of a state law is $4 per mile over the speed            
limit.  Several years ago the Legislature allowed municipalities to            
set their own bail schedules with approval of the Supreme Court.               
                                                                               
MS. HENSLEY said the State of Oregon does not use a point system               
suspension method.  The Oregon system is based on the number of                
violations issued in a three year period.  That law models the                 
American Association of Motor Vehicles Model Driver Improvement                
Program.  If one is issued five citations in a three year period,              
the license is suspended.  If one receives three citations in a two            
year period, the driver gets a warning.  In Alaska, a driver who               
drives between one and nine miles over the speed limit gets two                
points.  If that driver takes a driver improvement course, he/she              
is not assessed the points.  At present, the Court System will                 
dismiss a citation if the offender shows proof of having taken the             
driver improvement course.                                                     
                                                                               
MS. HENSLEY reported two years ago she assisted the Alaska State               
Troopers in writing regulations to control speed limits.  The                  
regulations allow DOTPF to determine the appropriate speed limit               
based on an engineer's study of the road.  The speed limit from                
Boniface to Fairbanks has been set at 65 mph.  DOTPF will be doing             
studies on various sections of road to determine appropriate speed             
limits.  A study of the Seward Highway did not recommend increasing            
the speed limit at this time.  The National Uniform Citation and               
Traffic Law and Ordinance Group writes model traffic laws and                  
ordinances for the Uniform Vehicle Codes for all states to use.                
Title 13 was written from the Uniform Vehicle Code in the 1970's.              
She recommended looking at a driver improvement program that is                
more proactive.  The point system is not necessarily what traffic              
experts are recommending at this time; they are recommending basing            
driver programs on the number and type of violations received in a             
specific time period.  She explained that the posted speed limits              
are not usually recorded on citations.                                         
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WARD said the committee would be in contact with her on               
the subject of a more proactive driver improvement program.                    
                                                                               
SENATOR HALFORD asked if the national model code organizations have            
a version of legislation regarding doubling fines in construction              
zones that the committee could review.  MS. HENSLEY replied she                
would check and get back to the committee on that question.                    
                                                                               
SENATOR DONLEY asked why the posted speed is not recorded on                   
citations if it is necessary to calculate the fine.  MS. HENSLEY               
replied citations sometimes contain the amount of miles exceeding              
the speed limit, rather than the posted speed.                                 
                                                                               
DENNIS POSHARD, DOTPF, stated he would be testifying only on                   
Sections 4 and 5 that deal with the highway work zones which DOTPF             
fully supports.  DOTPF believes a problem exists with construction             
zone safety and SB 304 is a step in the right direction in solving             
that problem.  He pointed out there are no statistics specific to              
work zones in Alaska.  He was aware that in 1994 a DOTPF paving                
crew worker was struck by a vehicle on Badger Road.  In 1987, on               
Old Nenana and Parks Highway at Ester, a worker was hit by a truck             
and killed, and another worker sustained a head injury.  In 1995               
the Glen Highway was repaved.  During the one year that project                
took to complete, 11 accidents occurred within the work zone and he            
is aware of other stories that provide evidence to prove that                  
speeding in construction zones is a problem.                                   
                                                                               
Regarding the problem with signs around maintenance projects                   
mentioned by Senator Halford, MR. POSHARD affirmed those signs are             
warnings to travelers and do not have a commensurate speed                     
reduction.   Regarding questions about whether it is apparent that             
the construction crew is active, the reduction of speed is for the             
safety of the construction workers as well as the traveling                    
passenger.  As construction is taking place, road conditions are               
less safe.                                                                     
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WARD announced his intent to hold the bill to draft an                
amendment in cooperation with the sponsor, and bring it back for               
presentation to the committee.  There being no further discussion,             
he adjourned the meeting at 2:12 p.m.                                          

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