Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rules to Live By

Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed.

So, I got out the next morning and got the tank delivered. I'm sure we've all seen sights like this hapless semi before, along with a variety of four wheeled vehicles in compromising positions. In winter weather, I'd frankly prefer an eighteen wheeler with a heavy load (for traction) and not much wind resistance. Odds are that semi in the median was lightly loaded, if at all. Plus, having an eight to nine thousand pound crane mounted behind the cab helps with traction. However, the tanks and their attendant wind resistance more or less erase that advantage. But, all that is pretty much academic, because of the laws involving extra dimensional (oversize) loads.

The rules vary from state to state, but as a rule of thumb, anything a few inches over 13'6" tall or 102" wide is going to require a special permit to move, period. There are several ways to get these permits - there are agencies that can get them for your company, or more commonly applied for online with a route request. The idea is that the state will route you around any low underpasses or road construction too narrow for the wide load. Some states offer annual oversize permits - they allow up to certain width and heights - once they are exceeded, a permit with the measurements must be issued.

All have the caveat that the ultimate responsibility belongs to the driver. If I hit an overpass the state routed me under - not their fault. That would be my fault for trusting them in the first place. Michigan is particularly bad about this issue - we have to get permits from an agent, and the State of Michigan also has the caveat that the route must be surveyed. This means a pilot car equipped with a height pole set at slightly above the actual load must drive the entire route and if the route has to deviate more than a couple miles, reapply with the proper data. Keeping track of their bridges is beyond the State of Michigan. Most of the other states are at least halfway competent. You can probably tell what I think about going to that wonderful state.

Another caveat is that any accident involving another vehicle will be the oversized driver's fault. So, while motoring through Denver, if some rice burner on a mission from hell cuts me off just a tad too quickly and clips me changing three lanes at a time - hey, it was my fault. Hours of operation are generally limited to one half hour before sunrise going to one half hour after sunset. Some are just sunrise to sunset. Colorado allows loads under a certain size to move at night if the projecting points of the load and the front and rear have flashing yellow amber beacons. So, we all carry battery powered flashers and have some variety of permanent rotating amber beacons on the cabs of our tractors. Quite a few of our trailers have built in flashing lights beside the brake and turn signal lights. Illinois requires flashing beacons on the front of the truck and the rear of the load during the day, along with headlights and marker lights. Wyoming just requires marker and headlights. Most drivers run their beacons whether they are required or not. I actually was pulled over last month by a Kansas Highway Patrolman because I wasn't running my "blinky" lights - even though they are not required by Kansas law. I told him so, but turned them on anyway - the time saved was worth more than being proven right if he decided to write me up and find the appropriate section and article that I violated, since that would be impossible. Not even the enforcers are completely conversant in the laws they are supposed to apply.

Then there is the caveat of adverse weather conditions. The majority of the language just states that movement will not be allowed in adverse weather conditions, with no exact definition of said condition. How much snow is too much? What speed must the wind be blowing before we stop? It's all up to the whim of whatever officer is out and about. Certain states have really started cracking down compared to just a couple years ago. Colorado is now notorious for not allowing movement when there is any snow on the road. We have to carry tire chains in Colorado - but the only way we get to use them is when we're empty and on the way home. By definition, the roads are too hazardous for us to move if the chain laws are up.

Nebraska has a thing about rain. Apparently, with the right law enforcement personnel, if windshield wipers are required, it's too wet to move. In Kansas, it's the wind. Wind speeds including gusts of forty mph and above seem to get their attention.

So, Monday when I was caught in a blizzard, safety wasn't the only reason I was looking hard for a place to land. Any deputy or highway patrolman who caught me out there could give me a ticket with a hefty fine for being stupid. I really don't know what their policy is on day cab trucks - if they would allow me to proceed to a motel with truck parking, or make me stay in the truck on some offramp.

I'd really rather not find out the hard way.

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