ARLINGTON, Va. – Both the American Trucking Association (ATA) and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) applauded the approval of a new long-term highway bill Dec. 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
“Today’s announcement that House and Senate leaders had reached an agreement on a long-term highway bill is welcome news to those of us in the transportation world,” said ATA president and CEO Bill Graves. “While we all, of course, wish there was more money to be had, this bill takes important steps to re-focus the program on important national projects and takes critical steps to improve trucking safety and efficiency.”
OOIDA executive vice-president Todd Spencer echoed the ATA’s sentiment.
“We greatly appreciate the efforts of lawmakers to recognize the value of owner-operators, small businesses and professional truckers and what they mean to the economy and to highway safety,” said Spencer.
Spencer was also pleased that the bill excluded two provisions strongly opposed by the OOIDA – one that would restrict a state’s ability regarding how drivers are compensated and another that Spencer said would have ‘placed a scarlet letter on 95% of all motor carriers because of shortcomings in the agency’s rating process.’
The ATA said it was pleased to see the bill was taking steps to reform the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (CSA) safety monitoring system, in addition to opening the door to hair testing for federally mandated drug testing and making it easier for veterans to enter the trucking industry.
“By ordering an evaluation and improvement of CSA, as well as removing the flawed scores the system produces from public view in the meantime, this bill is an important victory for data and accuracy in regulatory oversight,” said Dave Osiechi, ATA executive vice-president and chief of national advocacy. “Similarly, by mandating that the Department of Health and Human Services set standards for hair testing, Congress has given trucking companies a powerful tool to keep habitual drug users out from behind the wheel. These are both important victories for safety.”
Although Graves was pleased the bill created opportunities for young veterans to transition into the trucking industry, he had concerns elsewhere.
“We are disappointed that qualified, young, non-military CDL (commercial driver’s license) holders cannot have the same opportunity because we believe it is illogical to allow these younger drivers to operate in intrastate commerce in each of the 48 contiguous states, but not let them cross state borders,” Graves said. “It is puzzling why Congress would dispense with language from both chambers that was very similar in many respects in favor of a provision that was so starkly different.”
The ATA would also have liked to have seen the bill address potential patchwork of state rules released by allowing some states to enforce their own work and rest rules.
The bill – the 2015 FAST Act, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation – calls for the spending of $205 billion on U.S. highways during the next five years, along with nearly $50 billion for transit projects.
“This bill, perhaps more than any that came before, reflects the input lawmakers received from constituents,” Spencer said. “When professional drivers take the time to get involved in the legislative process, lawmakers will listen and respond. We thank our members for making their concerns known to their representatives in Congress.”
ATA chairman Pat Thomas said, “While not perfect, this bill is a tremendous step forward for trucking in many respects and we urge the House and Senate to pass it and President Obama to sign it into law before any more short-term extensions are needed.”