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Law to restrict tandem trucks

The Florida Legislature put up a roadblock Thursday that should stop tandem trucks from rumbling on two-lane country roads. During a special session to balance the budget, the Legislature also passed a law to regulate trucks.

Relaxed federal regulations that went into effect last week allow the double rigs to go wherever they need to pick up or unload cargo. States could restrict the routes only by enacting laws based on safety or the configuration of roads.

"Because of its definition of "terminal,' the (federal law) will allow tandem trailer trucks to go almost anywhere to serve commercial interests," the state Department of Transportation (DOT) said in a report.

A state law to restrict the big trucks died on the last day of the regular session last month and was revived when lawmakers agreed to come back for the budget fix.

Tandem trailers are allowed now on interstate highways, the Florida turnpike and some four-lane U.S. highways, but not on smaller roads. The changes allow the DOT to keep the double rigs off roads that are too narrow or too curvy, but the federal law requires states to let the big trucks roll on roads that are adequate.

"You are going to see tandems in more places than you've seen them before," said DOT Secretary Ben Watts. "But we will have the ability to say for safety reasons you (the trucks) can't go on those routes."

Though the trucking industry says the tandem trailers are not necessarily a greater threat than single trailers, federal studies indicate there are potential problems. A National Transportation Safety Board study showed instances of the trucks having trouble with control and maneuverability. The second trailer of a double rig is more likely to roll over in a sharp turn and the trailers can break away.

The American Automobile Association, which has nearly 2-million members in Florida, urged the Legislature to keep the twin rigs off small roads. AAA said the fatality rate is higher in accidents involving double rigs than in other accidents.

Also Thursday, the Legislature abolished the High Speed Rail Commission and transferred its duties to the DOT. The Legislature established the commission to develop a bullet train connecting Miami, Orlando and Tampa. The commission originally promised to build the bullet train without state tax dollars, but last year it reversed its position and said it might need tax money and state authority to grant development rights to make the project work.

The DOT will study high speed rail under a reduced budget.