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Published January 28 2011

North Dakota Legislature: Bill aims to reduce farm truck accidents

BISMARCK – A car accident that killed a Wahpeton college student has spurred state legislation.

House Bill 1349 would require more scrutiny of the driving records of farm truck drivers.

Any adult with a driver’s license can now haul agricultural products within 150 miles of the farm.

The bill proposes these drivers fill out a form created by the state Department of Transportation to reveal past violations or pending actions that may result in the loss of driving privileges.

The employer would need to obtain the driving record abstracts of these drivers from the DOT and verify the information provided by drivers is correct, said Rep. John Wall, R-Wahpeton, the prime bill sponsor.

The proposed law would penalize drivers who don’t tell the truth and employers who knowingly hire someone unqualified.

“I respectfully ask that the final product will in some way keep the worst of the worst from getting behind the wheel of a truck and hauling agricultural products or any other products period,” Wall told members of the House Transportation Committee.

Brenda Gjesdal of Wahpeton gave emotional testimony about the September 2009 day when a sugar beet truck driver ran a red light and killed her 18-year-old daughter, Annie. The driver had a history of violations.

“Every year, we hear how difficult it is for the farmers to find drivers for the beet season,” she said. “We cannot have them hiring any warm body they find to put behind the wheel of these rigs. A car does not win in a crash with a semitruck.”

Various agriculture groups spoke in opposition to the bill on Thursday. Eric Aasmundstad of the North Dakota Farm Bureau emphasized that agriculture should not be blamed for the accident.

“This is a tragic event that I don’t believe this bill is going to do anything to help,” he said. “This was an irresponsible act by an irresponsible person that was hired by an irresponsible employer.”

By and large, North Dakota farmers are trying their best to keep roads safe and spend a lot of time training drivers, Rep. Wes Belter, R-Fargo, said.

“I would just caution the committee to look at this in a very objective way and not overreact in the fact that you think passing a law will prevent this from happening again,” he said.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said he thought a lot of the problem could be addressed by requiring these drivers to have a commercial driver’s license. Wall said he didn’t include that in his bill.

“Quite honestly, as much as I think that would be good, I don’t think a lot of people in the ag industry could get drivers,” Wall said. “I think that would be a real problem.”

The House Transportation Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.