Final Highway Bill Expected to Pass, Truckers Take Note
Both chambers of Congress are expected to pass the final version of a five-year highway bill within the next couple of weeks, making it the longest such bill since 1998. It is know as HR 22, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), and carries a hefty price tag of $305 billion dollars that will be allocated to roads, bridges and mass transit. The deadline was December 4th, but the House and Senate were able to both sign off on it on December 1st.
Here are some key points in the 1,300 page measure:
Teenage Drivers – It was once thought that the bill would allow all teenage truckers to drive across state lines, but it seems that will not be the case for all 18, 19 and 20 year olds but only those who are military veterans or current military members with truck-driving training. Both the House and the Senate had already approved the measure in past appropriations of the bill, but for some reason it was removed. Amid the ongoing shortage of almost 50,000 truckers, this comes as a blow to the trucking industry, who supported forming a graduated-license system for young adults between 18 and 21 looking to fit empty driver’s seats.
While Bill Graves, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), welcomed the program, he expressed his opinion on not making it a permanent change for all truckers under 21 years of age. “It’s good news that Congress has created an opportunity for young veterans to transition to the trucking industry,” said Graves. “We are, however, disappointed that qualified, young, non-military CDL 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,” he continued. “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.”
33-Foot Trailers – Another big disappointment to the trucking industry is that the bill does not give approval for 33-foot trailers, as many large companies in the nation have been petitioning for. A handful of companies, including FedEx Corp. and Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., and other supporters like Amazon.com, wanted to be able to use twin 33-foot trailers in a configuration that would replace the 28-foot combos they are using now. Their stance on their issue was that longer trucks would mean less trucks on the road. They estimated truck traffic would be cut by 6.6 million trips and 1.3 billion miles.
Drug Testing – Carriers will be allowed to drug and alcohol test drivers with hair follicles in place of urine, once the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) creates a set of guidelines for the testing based on studies and approvals from their scientists. The DHHS has one year to complete the guidelines. Labor groups have been critical of the new testing method, stating it is overly sensitive.
CSA program reform – The bill requires that the majority of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability system’s Safety Measurement System data be taken down from public view. The trucking industry has long been condemning of how the group rankings carriers and truckers, stating that their methods are flawed and the trucking industry suffers because of it. The act is requiring that the program be inspected for flaws and a plan be created to solve them. The system will only be allowed back in place when those flaws are corrected. For the entire bill, go here.