Legislature(1997 - 1998)
02/24/1998 01:35 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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.