This question is not about whether it is legal to protest the government or not. Of course it is. That right is guaranteed by the first amendment. But is it legal to purposely block the beltway with thousands of trucks driving round and round the inner loop? That is a more interesting question. They could be in violation of a vaguely worded Maryland speed limit statute. It will be interesting to see what the police do if this protest materializes.
Truckers Ride for the Constitution is a group planning to bring thousands of 18 wheelers to the Washington DC Beltway from Friday October 11 through Sunday the 13th. Their stated reason is political protest. Their stated goal is to shut down the Beltway with traffic jams. So is that illegal? In exercising their rights of civil protest, are they planning to violate the rules of the road in Maryland?
According to the group’s website, they are not planning on violating the law. They plan to drive 55 miles per hour on the inner loop. But in doing so, they know they will clog the roads and cause massive traffic jams.
Maryland’s maximum speed limit is 55 mph. However, most of us know that doing 55 on the Beltway will get you killed. Nobody does 55 on the Beltway. If this group of trucks drives 55 mph on our Beltway tomorrow morning, there will be massive traffic jams. However, if they stay to 55 mph, they will not violate the law. They will be conducting a perfectly legal act. It is no crime to drive the speed limit – even if we all know the results will be a traffic jam.
However, there are rules in Maryland regarding minimum speed too. And Maryland State Police could shut down this protest using one very specific provision of that statute.
If you are driving more than 10 mph below the posted speed limit you must stay in the far right hand lane. If the protesting truckers are planning on slowing down below 45 mph, and they don’t stay in the far right lane, they could be pulled over and ticketed.
Also, Maryland has a very vague worded statute that the police could use to stop this protest. In Maryland, it is illegal to willfully operate a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the flow of traffic. See Maryland Transportation Code Section 21-804. Theoretically, the police could use this law to force all the truckers off the road for driving too slow.
I say “theoretically” because the logistics of pulling over hundreds of 18 wheelers are mind boggling. And the very fact they are pulled over on the side of the road might cause them to become a worse roadblock than if they were all moving at 55 mph. That would probably shut down the inner loop, which would be littered with idling rigs, and the outer loop, which would be shut down by rubberneckers!
The aftermath of such an action would bring Federal lawsuits galore with claims that the police violated the trucker’s civil rights of protest. It would get very ugly for the government very quickly. Given that the entire protest is against a so called corrupt and oppressive government, shutting down the protest through dubious means like using the minimum speed statute would probably not be advisable.
In sum, I think the police have a very tough task tomorrow if hundreds of trucks really do show up and start driving around the Beltway. There will literally be no good solution other than letting them roll and keeping them up to speed.
My advice to you – stay off the Beltway this weekend!