Winds of Change in Wyoming
Anyone traveling through Wyoming must brace for unusually strong gusts of wind that can topple an empty rig in the blink of an eye. This article will focus on gentler winds, i.e. changes in Wyoming law and attitude that are still worthy of your attention.
Wyoming made national news in April when two huge pile-ups occurred on I-80 within a single week, raising concerns about highway safety along our vast open spaces. While truckers have always known to “expect the unexpected”, Wyoming weather and abundant wildlife can surprise even the most experienced drivers! Bluebird weather one minute can change to dense fog or ground blizzards the next, and pulling off to the side of the road has its own risk as everyone else is trying to do the same. It can become one big tragic cluster in seconds.
This is why the Wyoming Highway Patrol (WHP) opposed legislative bills to raise the speed limit from 75 mph to 80 mph on long, lonely stretches of our interstate highways. The patrol reasoned that higher speeds would result in less reaction time to our unpredictable everythingand urged Wyoming lawmakers not to raise the limit. Those patrol worries did not win the day. So, Wyoming motorists enjoy the higher speed limit, but the WHP is showing less tolerance for those exceeding the limit even by a few miles per hour.
Several months ago it came to light that the WHP tied raises, promotions, and bonuses to ticket quotas, setting off a firestorm of criticism that resulted in discarding such policy before lawmakers felt compelled to introduce bills to formally stop the practice. The negative public sentiment toward the WHP changed quickly after the April pile-ups as the patrol worked tirelessly in horrible conditions to rescue accident victims and clean-up the carnage for days afterward.
Newspaper photos of the scene from both accidents showed multiple mangled semis and prompted a number of letters to the editor urging truckers to drive more cautiously. What few outside the industry realize is that truckers cannot stop on a dime and are as susceptible as any other driver to sudden zero visibility.
Like the Serenity Prayer, we seek patience to accept what we cannot change, and strength to change what we must. Obviously, operators can lessen risk by making sure their equipment and their brains are in good working order and capable of handling higher highway speeds and adjusting to sudden changes in conditions.
Another wind of change in Wyoming has been greaterprotection for persons using non-motorized modes of transportation. During the last legislative session, a law was passed that requires motorists to allow bicyclists three feet when passing them on the roadway. This happened, mind you, when legislators were also considering whether to increase the speed limits on two-lane roads (where cross-country bicyclists are more likely to travel). If safety is a top priority, increasing the speed limit on two-lane roads may not be such a wise choice.Such a law has not yet passed.
Truckers traveling on rural roads and in town should be aware that Wyoming school buses are now equipped with video cameras, so as to more easily identify and prosecute those drivers who pass a bus that is stopped with flashing red lights. This development occurred because of the death of a little girl exiting a school bus who was hit by a passing motorist ignoring the flashing bus lights.
For several years, Wyoming law has required motorists to move to the passing lane when passing a stopped patrol car with flashing lights on the side of the road…if you can safely do so. Traffic is beyond your control but maintaining reasonable speeds to allow maneuverability is still in your control.
Wyoming lawmakers have been keenly aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Hand-held cell phone use is banned in most cities and towns, and texting while driving is forbidden everywhere in the State. Marijuana remains illegal in Wyoming but not in neighboring Colorado. I’m wondering if I’m the only one who has noticed a distinct change in the flow of traffic in Colorado since marijuana became legal. Too often now, I cross into Colorado on I-25 and see a number of drivers appearing completely unaware of how slow they are driving and what effect that is having on other motorists. Their “happy zone” is my frustration.
Another small wind of change that is of particular interest is a new Wyoming law that deals with towing abandoned or disabled vehicles. The Wyoming Department of Transportation removes vehicles when an operator cannot. Law enforcement must now choose from a rotating list of tow truck companies, something that was not done in the past.
Lastly, truckers whose native language is not English, should be aware of English Comprehension Examinations that, by law, WDOT personnel can administer at a Port of Entry if they have reason to believe that the trucker does not have a sufficient grasp of the English language in order to understand roadway signs and signals. Unfortunately, the results of the test may be considered “passing” by one patrolman at the Port of Entry on the eastern border of Wyoming, while the same test with the same results by the same trucker on the western border is considered “failing” by a different WDOT grader. The subjective nature of this makes it vulnerable to criticism as patently unfair. The ACLU has raised a number of objections and concerns about this test in recent years but the ACLU just closed its Wyoming office so will no longer be around to try to right this wrong.
As you can see, Wyoming laws and attitudes have changed only slightly this year. People in this State are generally grateful for all that the trucking industry and individuals bring to us. By constantly expecting the unexpected, you will be doing your part to prepare for and adjust to those wild, windy things you cannot change or control.
Deb Kellam, attorney and manager of the Wyoming office of Hall & Evans, LLC