FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Law enforcement officials in North Dakota and Minnesota are questioning the wisdom of relaxed driver's license rules for truck drivers during the Red River Valley sugar beet harvest.

The questions follow crashes this week involving the big trucks, including one that killed a Wahpeton woman.

During the harvest, anyone with a valid driver's license can haul sugar beets in trucks that normally require a commercial driver's license to operate. "Hours of service" rules, which limit how long a driver can be behind the wheel before taking a rest, are suspended.

Federal law allows such exceptions and both North Dakota and Minnesota law provide for them, to help farmers get their crops out of the field in a timely manner.

"It always kind of baffled me," said Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Rick Fjestad, who has worked as an over-the-road truck driver.

Fjestad said drivers inexperienced with large trucks might not be aware of how much extra time is required to stop a vehicle that could weigh more than 50,000 pounds when loaded with beets.

"It is a concern when they're driving that big equipment," he said.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Kyle Kirchmeier agreed, saying drivers might not understand how trucks behave differently from cars when it comes to things such as braking.

Fjestad said that in recent years, the number of serious crashes involving beet trucks has dropped. He attributes that to law enforcement efforts to educate growers about the importance of making sure drivers know how to properly operate the big trucks.

"We want to believe it's because we're going out and visiting with the growers before the season starts, letting them know we're going to be watching," he said. "We're going to be checking driver qualifications."


Information from: The Forum, http://www.in-forum.com

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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