Highway Bill

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Highway Bill

Owner-operators have been investing a ton of personal time and resources trying to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill. A quick review of a massive Surface Transportation bill published June 3 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee suggests Congress may be listening.

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act, which would replace the FAST Act of 2015, seeks $494 billion for a wide range of construction, research, and safety projects to be carried out over the next five years. The bill, which is still in the earliest stages of the approval process, is noteworthy, both for what it contains — $250 million for truck parking and provisions to rein-in both excessive detention and predatory lease-to-own schemes — and what it doesn’t.

There are no mandates for speed limiters or side underride guards, no increase in minimum liability insurance requirements, and no DRIVE-Safe Act lowering the minimum driving age to 18 — all issues that owner-operators oppose. Perhaps even more significant, in terms of progress, is the fact that all of the research mandates affecting truckers require an owner-operator representative to be seated on the taskforce.

 

Both OOIDA and ATA praised the bill.

“This draft legislation contains significant investment in our country’s roads and bridges,” said Chris Spear, President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. “And while we may not agree on every provision . . . this is a real and commendable step on the part of the committee to advance the process in the House and ultimately arrive at a negotiable solution with the Senate.”

“Our efforts to shape trucking policies in this proposal have been largely successful,” said Todd Spencer, President and CEO of OOIDA. “We’ve worked very closely with the Chairman to ensure this bill addresses some of the top priorities of truckers while making certain it doesn’t include several policies that would hurt small trucking businesses. I think there’s a lot to like about this bill if you’re an OOIDA member, but some aspects will need to be improved.”

Specifically, OOIDA has concerns about provisions that would return CSA scores to public view before the system has been perfected, further legitimize oral fluids drug testing, and delay implementation of FMCSA’s hours-of-service final rule.

Omnibus transportation bills such as this one only come down the pike every five years, so the impacts are both significant and long-lasting. This is a golden opportunity to weigh in with your elected representatives to let them know what you support and don’t support about the bill.

At 896 pages, the bill is a beast, but not all of that applies to trucking. Anyone with any significant interest in trucking regulation should take the time to read all of the relevant passages and get a conversation going.

Here are some of the key provisions of interest to owner-operators:

 

Parking

The bill earmarks $250 million for grants for public-private partnerships to provide additional truck parking adjacent to truck stops, rest areas, weigh stations, and other safe, convenient locations.

 

Safety

Sec. 4202 – CSA SCORES. FMCSA to update carrier Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) review methodologies and make carrier CSA scores available to the public. The FAST Act of 2015 removed CSA scores from public review

Sec. 4303 – ENTRY LEVEL DRIVER TRAINING. Beginning January 2021, FMCSA will be required to develop implementation benchmarks and submit quarterly progress reports to Congress on the implementation of Entry-Level Driver Training requirements.

Sec. 4304 – DETENTION. Within 30 days of the bill’s effective date, the Department of Transportation will begin collecting data on unpaid hours for drivers waiting for their trucks to be loaded or unloaded and establish limits within a year as to the amount of time drivers can be forced to wait without compensation.

Sec. 4305 – LEASING. Within 6 months, establish a task force to study predatory truck leasing policies and develop a report with recommended best practices to protect truckers.

Sec. 4306 – HOURS OF SERVICE. Postpones implementation of new HOS rules pending a comprehensive review of current policy, exemptions, and safety data.

Sec. 4307 – RECRUITMENT OF FOREIGN DRIVERS. Requires the review of current practices involving the hiring of drivers under H1B work visas.

Sec. 4405 – UNDERRIDE PROTECTION. Mandates the implementation of rear impact guards on all new trailers manufactured after an implementation date to be established by the DOT. Calls for research into the efficacy of side underride guards.

 

Innovation

Title V, beginning on page 632, outlines funding for a number of technology initiatives, including a federal clearinghouse for autonomous vehicle research data, and a study of “safe interactions between automated vehicles and road users.”

The bill, in its current form, is still in the very early stages of the approval process and could change substantially in the weeks and months ahead. OOIDA and the ATA will be monitoring the process and updating their members on any proposed changes along the way. Independent owner-operators seeking a “seat at the table” when it comes to regulating their industry, need to watch this process closely as well.

If you haven’t already, identify the elected representatives from your state and be sure to contact them throughout the process to let them know what you want them to support, and what you want them to change.

This is a very dynamic process. Diligence and persistence are key. Be especially vigilant for any “sneaky-Pete” additions, such as an increase in insurance requirements, or speed limiters, that may get slipped into the bill late in the process.

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