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Chemical Transport : Katz Readies 2 Bills Aimed at Truck Safety

December 31, 1987|ALAN C. MILLER | Times Staff Writer

Two measures intended to improve the safety of trucks and transportation of hazardous chemicals on state highways will be introduced by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) when the state Legislature reconvenes next week.

Katz, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said Wednesday that the legislation was prompted by increased truck accidents in California and by a state hearing following disclosures that toxic and explosive chemicals were being transported through heavily populated areas.

A task force headed by Katz held a hearing last fall after it was revealed that highly volatile rocket fuel was routinely transported on the Ventura Freeway through the San Fernando Valley and through other heavily populated areas. The fuel has since been rerouted through less populated regions.

"My goal is to prevent tragedies, whether it be the size of a Bhopal, India, where thousands died, or one person who dies on the freeway," Katz said before a backdrop of battered trucks at Los Angeles Auto Salvage in North Hollywood during a news conference.

'Inhalation Hazards'

Katz's bill to stiffen safeguards for the transport of 147 toxic chemicals--known as "inhalation hazards" under federal standards--includes such commonplace substances as chlorine as well as methyl isocyanate, the deadly gas that killed an estimated 2,000 people when it leaked from Union Carbide's Bhopal plant in 1984. Small amounts of the chemicals would be excluded from the bill.

The measure would restrict trucks carrying chemicals so dangerous that a spill would require widespread evacuation. Those cargoes would be confined to highway routes approved by the California Highway Patrol after considering population density and the capacity of local emergency agencies, and after public hearings.

The bill would also require notification of local police and fire chiefs when any inhalation hazard is moved through their municipality. In addition, vehicles carrying these substances would be required to have two qualified drivers, breathing apparatus, emergency equipment and an escort vehicle.

Katz's second bill would require all employers of truck drivers to obtain a prospective employee's Department of Motor Vehicles record before hiring and to review it periodically. It also calls for truck operators to inspect their vehicles every 45 days. The CHP would review the inspection records annually.

Random Inspections

Annual inspections of trucks are not required in California, although they are done for school and tour buses. The CHP conducted 335,474 random highway truck inspections in 1986 and found 728,291 violations.

The bill would also suspend the license of truck and bus drivers when their violations reach four points--the same limit allowed for other motorists--eliminating an exemption that now allows them six points before suspension. Katz called it "a dangerous loophole."

A record-setting 678 fatalities involved trucks in California in 1986, reflecting a 41% increase in the past decade. Driver error was the cause of 94% of the accidents, according to the CHP.

Katz said he did not know how much it would cost to administer the new requirements. He proposed that the funds be taken from individual truck fees paid to the state Public Utilities Commission.

The CHP has not taken a position on Katz's proposals. But Commissioner James E. Smith supports "most of the ideas" in the inhalation hazards bill, said Bob Rengstorff, Smith's executive assistant.

Katz predicted that provisions of the proposals will be opposed by the influential trucking and chemical industries and the Teamsters Union, which represents truck drivers.

The 2,500-member California Trucking Assn. won't respond to the bills until it has reviewed them, spokeswoman Karen Rasmussen said. Spokesmen for the state Chemical Industry Council and the Teamsters Union in California could not be reached.

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