Saturday, July 24, 2004

Crackdown on overweight trucks puts coal operators in hot seat



The Associated Press

PIKEVILLE, Ky. - Coal truck drivers may not be the only ones held accountable in a crackdown on overweight loads.

Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement has begun writing citations to coal companies for overloading trucks that trudge across mountain highways in eastern Kentucky.

Officers began a crackdown on overweight trucks about three weeks ago, sparking demonstrations by drivers. Some took part in a temporary work stoppage, parking their rigs on the side of U.S. 23 to call for legislation that would make coal companies share the responsibility for penalties for overloaded trucks.

However, legislation may not be necessary.

Greg Howard, head of Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement, contends that current law holds coal companies accountable for overloading trucks and sending them out on state highways.

Consol of Kentucky became the first coal company to receive a citation based on that legal interpretation. Company representatives couldn't be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

"If a person is aiding and abetting of sorts, they are responsible," Howard said. "We feel like it's a fair application of the law."

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said the legal action taken against Consol appears to be intended as a test case.

"What they're doing is plowing new ground," Caylor said. "They're trying to create a legal responsibility on the operator where there is no law. They're taking general provisions of a law and trying to apply that to the operator. I think that's the wrong way of going about it. I don't know if they will be successful."

Coal truck driver Russell Engle told the Appalachian News-Express that his colleagues want the state Legislature to pass a law that would make coal companies liable for fines on illegal loads. West Virginia has such a law, he said, that has been effective in reducing the number of overweight coal trucks.

Howard said truck drivers acknowledged to him that overloaded trucks pose a safety hazard on highways in eastern Kentucky.

"These guys were saying 'we know these trucks are unsafe. We want to run legal. We just don't know what to do about it,'" Howard said. "There is a lot of people who need to share responsibility."

Lt. Gov. Steve Pence said he met with truckers, owners of trucking companies and coal operators to discuss weight issues.

"We're going to continue to enforce the law as it is," he said. "We don't believe that just the drivers should be punished for this. If the people who are loading the coal know that they are overloading the trucks, there is a mechanism that allows them to share that burden."

Caylor disagreed.

"It really isn't the intent of the law," he said. "They're trying to stretch the law to use in a way it doesn't apply."




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