Bill steepens pass fines
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 26, 2013
A bill that would increase fines for truckers who ignore road closures and restrictions on Teton Pass is gaining momentum in the Wyoming House.
Though it will apply throughout the state, House Bill 179 was developed by Teton County law enforcement officers and legislators.
Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, sponsored the bill. Three other area lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors. The House Transportation Committee unanimously approved the bill Friday, clearing the way for it to be heard by the full House.
If passed, the legislation will allow law enforcement to write tickets for up to $750 in fines. The existing maximum is $100. The potential for jail time — up to 30 days — will remain the same. If approved, the bill will take effect in July.
The bill applies to “any operator of a commercial vehicle who willfully fails to observe any sign, marker, warning, notice or direction” related to road closures or restrictions.
The legislation is one of several attempts politicians, law enforcement and other Teton County groups are making to bolster safety on the steep highway.
The issue of safety on Teton Pass is one raised on an almost annual basis, however, the death of a 36-year-old driver last year sparked calls for more drastic efforts. Since 2003, 18 trucks, vans or buses have been involved in accidents on the pass.
In the fall, legislators met with law enforcement officials and members of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance to discuss a possible legislative remedy. At that meeting, state highway patrolmen outlined a proposal to raise the fine.
Under existing state law, a highway patrolman can cite a truck driver under one of two statutes. The decision about which statute is used has largely been left up to the discretion of the officer.
But the fines associated with the two laws are different. The discrepancy led to an awkward situation when patrolmen pulled over two trucks crossing the pass in a caravan. One officer used one law and the other used a different statute. When the drivers compared notes, they noticed they were facing different fines.
Halverson’s bill would bring the two statutes in line with one another.
State transportation officials also want to build new runaway truck ramps on the pass. They are also considering an automatic weigh station that could alert officers of overweight trucks and warn drivers of the dangers of crossing the pass in overweight trucks.