Special: How New U.S. Trucking Proposals Affect You

by Evan Lockridge

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Lawmakers with the federal government in the U.S. are hard at work, or so they like to claim, putting together legislation to fund road and bridge building and repair projects. While roads and bridges are important in themselves, the legislation is starting to hit every aspect of your industry; it’s as expansive as it is expensive. Whether or not you pull in the U.S., this massive legislative exercise will have an affect on the way you do business. As goes the American transportation industry, so goes ours. 

These elected members of both the House and Senate, of which there are 435 and 100 voting, respectively, are working to beat an end of the month deadline before current highway funding expires, including figuring out where the money will come from and if they will pass a short-term funding patch or a longer one covering several years.

While the issued is far from settled, it is clear trucking interests and issues are getting some attention from Congress, with lawmakers offering up proposals that include everything but the kitchen sink.

One of the biggest plans, and some say the most controversial, would lower minimum age for interstate truck drivers, those that can travel beyond the boundary of one state, from 21 to 18 under a pilot program.

Supporters say it’s needed to help the U.S. deal with its own “driver shortage” problem. More importantly, current rules can keep someone aged 18 to 20 from driving just a few short miles from one state to another, but can drive hundreds of miles within large U.S. states such as Texas and California.

Critics point out that this is too young to send people across the country with potentially hundreds of thousand of dollars in trucking equipment and freight, and it’s a move by big trucking companies looking for inexperienced and cheap labor.

Also on the driver front, there is a separate plan to change how mandatory and random testing of truckers for illegal drugs is performed. No longer would it be just limited to urine specimens, but the plan calls for hair samples.

Proponents say using hair, from darned near anywhere on the body, is a more reliable method of testing and is nearly impossible to mask like urine testing

It’s not needed say critics, including some in trucking, who say the use of illegal drugs in the U.S. trucking industry is at or near an all time low.

There’s also action when it comes to the rules and regulations of trucking.

One plan offered up calls for reforming the main regulatory agency for trucking in the U.S., the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

It would require the agency to analyze its chief truck safety program, Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA).

Since its rollout several years ago, trucking groups that can never agree on the price of a free cup of coffee, have nearly been united in blasting the program, saying it makes safe carriers look bad and is inaccurate.

The proposal would also remove some safety scores from the publically accessible website for CSA, which can be used to gauge how well or poorly a trucking company is performing, while also calling for rewarding carriers within CSA if they voluntarily adopt safety technologies or programs.

There is also a move to force FMCSA to study whether its scores for fleets under CSA can be used to accurately predict carriers’ crash risk and whether the system provides similar enforcement benefits for large and small motor carriers.

It also would require FMCSA to remove data alerts, scores, and percentiles regarding safety performance from public view in CSA, until a report and corrective action plan have been published, and recommendations completed. Also it would require development of a review program to remove accident data from the CSA system when the motor carrier was not at fault.

Even technology and trucking equipment is in the mix, with a plan to change regulations on where items can be placed on the front windshield of a truck, allowing the mounting of safety devices, such as forward- and driver-facing cameras, to windshields.

An even bigger proposal in this arena would keep glider kits for heavy-duty and medium-duty trucks exempt from the next round of the U.S. government’s planned greenhouse gas emissions regulations, which Canada earlier indicated it would follow.

The author of the legislation, who just happens to have glider kit supplier in their area, offered up the measure due to indications that they will be covered in the next round of new greenhouse gas emissions rules.

Not surprisingly, money is also in the mix, with a plan to would entirely do away with paying most truckers by the mile. The proposal would require trucking employers to pay drivers for all hours worked but the legislation also has another part.

It would increase the minimum amount of liability insurance trucking companies operating in the U.S. must carry form the current US$750,000 level to US$1.5 million and tie the latter number to the country’s annual inflation rate.

Last year, the FMCSA began work on changing this current regulation, but it has yet to be finalized.

There are also efforts to force or speed up some regulatory measures that FMCSA has either started work on or has indicated it will address, including a mandate for speed limiters on new trucks and to require trucks to have collision avoidance technology.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is already calling for the latter, but it can only make recommendations, it has no power to force rules.

How much of any of this will get lawmakers’ final approval is anyone’s guess.

With it being years since Congress passed a long-term highway funding package, instead, just kicking the can down the road many times and for just a short period, whatever trucking legislation emerges for President Obama to sign into law will be lucky to have not been tossed down the kitchen drain.

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