ARLINGTON, Va. -- The American Trucking Associations has praised the House and Senate conference committee for their work in passing “a safety-conscious highway bill that lays a solid foundation for addressing America’s need for an efficient goods movement network.”
The group was quick to note that the legislation was “not all we could have hoped for as an industry and as users of the highway system.”
That said, ATA president and CEO Bill Graves said the bill “makes tremendous strides in the safety arena and puts down a marker for future improvements to our nation’s freight infrastructure,” and “will benefit not just the trucking industry, but highway safety and the economy as a whole.”
Graves said of particular importance was the committee’s inclusion of several initiatives advocated by ATA, including a requirement that commercial trucks use electronic logging devices to record drivers’ compliance with Hours-of-Service limits, the creation of a clearinghouse to track drug and alcohol test results, a study of crashworthiness standards for large trucks, the establishment of standards for systems to provide employers with timely notifications of drivers’ moving violations, and mandatory testing of new carriers entering the industry to verify their knowledge of safety requirements.
“Despite misinformation from a vocal minority, the conferees have set our industry on the path to even greater improvements in safety by requiring the Department of Transportation to mandate that truck drivers use electronic devices to record their compliance with the Hours-of-Service requirements,” Graves said. “This is a tremendous leap forward for trucking, which will bring our compliance systems into the 21st Century, levelling the playing field for our industry and lead to even fewer crashes on our nation’s highways.
“In addition to the ELD requirement, the bill also requires DOT to conduct a field study of pending changes to the restart provisions in the Hours-of-Service regulations. ATA has pressed DOT to follow through on the recommendations of their own researchers to confirm their finding in a ’real-world‘ field study before implementing the pending changes. Logically, DOT should confirm the efficacy of the planned changes in the real world, before making the new provisions effective,” Graves said.
The bill also lays a foundation for improvements in freight transportation, though said ATA chairman Dan England notes that the bill lacks the increases in funding necessary to address the industry’s growing needs.
“ATA has long supported increasing user fees, specifically the diesel tax, to fund overdue repair and expansion of our highway system,” England said. “While this bill does not do that, it does make impressive reforms to the planning process which will reduce costs and speed construction projects, including making freight transportation a greater priority, along with providing certain enticements for states to fund freight projects. It is our sincere hope that as these reforms take effect, Congress quickly gets back to drafting legislation that provides the adequate funding we need to maintain and grow our infrastructure network and dedicates funds to the movement of freight.”
Despite a mostly positive response to the bill, ATA officials said it falls “significantly short” in the area of truck productivity.
“While there is much to like about this bill, ATA is extremely disappointed that Congress has once again kicked the can down the road with respect to truck productivity,” Graves said. “By giving into fear-based misinformation, this bill delays the deployment of some of our industry’s safest, most fuel efficient trucks. We fully expect this latest study to confirm what numerous other studies have already told us: modest increases in truck size and weight limits have a net positive effect on highway safety and maintenance.”
At least one group also voiced its displeasure at the bill’s provision for electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs).
“The EOBR proposal doesn't just have a few warts, it’s riddled with tumours, rendering it totally ineffective at improving safety,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). “The issue is far from settled.”
A regulatory version of an EOBR mandate was struck down by a federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit because the FMCSA failed to deal with the harassment of drivers. Noted in that ruling was the fact that no research has shown how such a mandate would do anything to improve highway safety.
“There is no proof that EOBRs being used for Hours-of-Service compliance will improve highway safety,” says Spencer, noting that it has been estimated that the current EOBR rulemaking will cost the industry $2 billion if enacted.
“Proponents have pushed for EOBRs and other technology under the pretext of safety while at the same time opposing basic training standards. They want small businesses to spend billions on something that will never make up for the lack of training,” says Spencer. “That hypocrisy proves this is actually a way for large motor carrier companies to squeeze more ‘productivity’ out of drivers and increase costs for the small trucking companies they compete with,” said Spencer.