In the past, Congress would consider a “highway bill” every few years. Then, about 30 years ago the legislation morphed into a “surface transportation” bill, inviting consideration of non-highway transportation sectors like rails and ports. Today, we are in the midst of competing visions for “infrastructure” bills. Even the definition of “infrastructure” is under debate, with some in federal office calling for taxpayer investment in “human” infrastructure, as well as in physical structures.
By whatever terminology politicians use, these pieces of legislation always contain provisions directly impacting the trucking industry. At its core, a “highway,” “surface transportation” or “infrastructure” bill is an appropriations measure. It provides funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation, its agencies, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and others, and associated projects.
One of the few things Congress must do each session is fund the federal government. Generally, legislators accomplish that through appropriations measures for each of the 15 executive departments. Congress takes that opportunity to tell the departments how to use the taxpayer money appropriated. For trucking, that means Congressional directives to the FMCSA on new trucking regulations and to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on new vehicle standards.
And because Congress must pass this legislation, every member of the House or Senate with a stand-alone piece of legislation related to trucking will try to add those provisions to the House or Senate infrastructure bill. The one exception to this rule is if Congress fails to pass funding legislation by Sept. 30, then it can pass a temporary funding measure, called a “continuing resolution,” keeping the government operating at current funding levels.
Ideally, Congress wraps this up before the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30. Until the House, Senate and Administration reach consensus on what to include in the massive bill, everything remains on the table. Discussions between each group focus on the overall infrastructure bill funding amount, and how to pay for it.
Based on legislation in the House “INVEST in America Act,” and the Senate “Surface Transportation Investment Act,” watch for these trucking provisions as contending candidates for the final legislative package:
Truck equipment provisions
- Automatic emergency braking. In both the House and Senate bills. Already required on new passenger cars and part of the administration’s published regulatory agenda.
- Underride. Identical language in both bills calls for stronger rear underride guards and a study on side underride guards for truck trailers.
- Universal ID. The House bill would require a rulemaking for a universal vehicle identifier device on all new trucks. The UID would identify the vehicle to roadside inspectors for enforcement
Truck safety provisions
- Crash causation. Both bills call for a new study on truck-involved crashes.
- Truck parking. The House bill seeks to address the shortage of parking for commercial motor vehicles to improve the safety of commercial motor vehicle operators.
- Hours of service. As part of an overall hours of service study, the House bill requires FMCSA to consider time and/or mileage limits on the use of trucks for “personal conveyance.”
- Sleep apnea. The House bill requires FMCSA to adopt sleep apnea screening criteria within two years.
- CSA. The House bill directs FMCSA to complete its revision of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program within one year and to open all CSA data to public view.
- Truck leasing. Both bills set up a truck leasing task force to examine whether maintenance of leased trucks is adequate and whether leasing companies engage in predatory practices.
- Driver detention. The House bill would require a rulemaking on the reasonable time a driver could be detained at shipper/receiver facilities, citing driver fatigue and HOS compliance concerns.
Taxation and trucking insurance provisions
- VMT. Both bills call for a study of a national vehicle mileage tax, though federal legislators are avoiding new or increased highway user taxes to fund their infrastructure bills.
- Minimum insurance requirement. The House bill would increase the minimum insurance non-hazmat carriers must maintain from $75,000 to $2 million.
PrePass will keep you updated when the final infrastructure bill is passed and signed by the president. Look for that blog later in the year.