Legislators override boat trailer bill veto; reaction pro and con

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

The N.C. General Assembly has voted to override Gov. Mike Easley’s veto of a bill that would loosen restrictions on oversize boat trailers—a bill for which local and state tourism officials have been lobbying over the past year.

The legislation, House Bill 2167, is titled, “An act to increase the width of boats that may be transported on highway routes during the day and night without a permit and to provide for an annual permit as opposed to a single trip permit for oversize boats.”

Legislators introduced the bill after the state board of transportation adopted a resolution asking the General Assembly to review the laws regarding “special permits and commercial driver’s licenses” in reaction to public complaints.

For about a year, fishermen traveling the state’s roads, specifically to and from local tournaments, had complained to state officials about patrolmen enforcing laws they hadn’t enforced before.

Fishermen said they were receiving massive fines for violating towing laws, specifically towing trailers more than 102 inches wide without a Class A driver’s license and for pulling the trailers at night, on holidays and on Sundays.

In response, the House passed the bill 105-5, and the Senate passed it 43-0. The bill states, in part, “The towing of a boat or boat trailer 102 inches to 114 inches in width may take place on any day of the week, including weekends and holidays, and may take place at night.”

In his veto message, Easley cited safety issues as the reason for shooting down the bill.

“House Bill 2167, allows extremely large boats as wide as 9 feet to be towed on any state road at anytime, including night time, any day of the week, without a permit as required by all other states from Texas to Virginia,” Easley wrote. “I sincerely believe that this bill puts families at a risk on the highways and would result in death or serious injury.”

Easley stated he was concerned about the 9-foot boats coming into contact with school buses during early morning and early evening hours.

Last Wednesday, the governor called the General Assembly back into session following his veto, as required by state law, and legislators voted overwhelmingly in favor of overriding it.

Holden Beach Mayor Alan Holden, who also serves on the N.C. Travel Industry Association board of directors, was pleased with the decision and said the legislature followed the direction of their constituents.

“We have a governor who did what he thought was best for state, but certainly the members of the legislature did what they thought was best and followed the wish of vast majority of people in the state who supported the bill,” Holden said.

Soon after the decision, AAA Carolinas criticized the move, stating in a news release that it “fails to consider North Carolina’s unfortunate status as the worst state in the nation last year for increased traffic deaths.”

“Oversize boats are required to get permits to travel and are forbidden to travel on Sundays and nighttime. The new bill removes restrictions on boats and boat trailers 8.5-feet to 10-feet wide permitting them to travel any time of day or night on any road without permit,” the agency stated.

According to AAA, North Carolina had the nation’s greatest increase in deaths last year—121, up from 1,554 in 2006. The next three worst states for total deaths, added together, had fewer deaths (118) than North Carolina.

“AAA Carolinas supports bringing the issue back before the General Assembly in 2009 and modifying it to take into account traffic safety concerns while at the same time recognizing the rights of boaters to reach their recreational destinations and participate in the sports events many boaters enjoy,” the group stated.

Holden disagreed and said statistics do not show that drivers hauling oversized boats are contributing to the number of accidents.

“The people who tow the larger boats are more experienced, in most cases, and have the ability to haul the bigger boats in a safe fashion,” he said.

Holden said recreational fishermen start out with small boats, and by the time they buy the larger ones, “they have experience and know what they’re doing. They travel slower. They make room for other vehicles. The record shows that it hasn’t been a problem so far.”

“The highway patrol, law enforcement, the tourism industry and elected officials all agree safety is the utmost important thing. We’re all on the same team.”

sarah shew wilson is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or swilson@brunswickbeacon.com.