ATA Happy with New Highway Bill

In spite of an August, 2011 Appeals Court ruling against Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) because they might be used to harass truck drivers, the highway safety bill passed this week mandates their use to assure compliance with more stringent hours-of-service rules. While Bill Graves of the American Trucking Associations praised the requirement, many owner-operators working in the field at truck driving jobs were vocal in their opposition.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association executive vice president Todd Spencer labeled the requirement totally ineffective as a safety improvement. Spencer also pointed out that no studies have been conducted that show electronic logs are any more effective than paper ones in improving safety. The lack of any studies was also noted in the Court’s ruling. Implementation of the rules is expected to cost $2 billion. There is also some sentiment within the trucking community that e-logs are a thinly disguised attempt to squeeze drivers and small carriers.

Implementation of the requirement may be problematic, however. In a separate appropriations bill passed June 29, DOT funding for instituting EOBR rules was prohibited. Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) sponsored the amendment, which removed funds allocated to establish and implement mandatory electronic monitoring devices for both commercial and passenger vehicles. The bill included global position tracking systems, EOBRs and data recorders in the list of devices covered by the amendment. With no budget to create and apply rules, it is unlikely the devices will be mandatory in the near future.

Other portions of the bill were less controversial. One section will require DOT to conduct a study on how proposed restart rule changes will affect truck driving jobs in the field. The field study which was recommended internally would test the feasibility and safety improvement of the revised rules.

The bill also contains provisions to establish databases for tracking drug and alcohol testing results and moving violations. An additional section would require mandatory safety knowledge testing for novice carriers. These initiatives, along with the EOBR proposal, were all supported by ATA.

Two other sections supported by ATA, which dealt with equipment rather than truck drivers, were only partially successful. The bill included support for a study to establish truck crashworthiness standards. A separate proposal to increase truck weight limits and sizes failed to be included in the final conference committee bill.

ATA also identified some language regarding improving infrastructure as a win for the motor carrier industry. Although the bill expressed support for improvements, no additional funding was included. ATA has lobbied hard for increased user fees including an increase in the diesel fuel tax to fund expansion of the highway system and make needed repairs. While the bill raised no funds for infrastructure, it did streamline some planning procedures related to highway improvement. The bill also created some incentives for states to undertake freight movement projects on their own.

While large trucking companies seem satisfied with the highway safety bill, it remains to be seen how the changes impact drivers and whether they improve highway safety.

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