Highway bill should exclude ‘harmful’ policies for truckers, OOIDA says

April 26, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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A year ago, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposed the U.S. House of Representatives version of the highway bill, HR2, because of several policies that would have been harmful to truck drivers.

As the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee crafts a new highway bill proposal, OOIDA is informing the committee leaders of some of the modifications that would make the legislation positive for truck drivers.

OOIDA sent a letter to T&I Chair Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and ranking member Sam Graves, R-Mo., on Monday, April 26. The Association also reached out to its more than 150,000 members, asking them to let their representatives know the damage HR2 would have done to their businesses. The current surface reauthorization bill expires in September.

In 2020, OOIDA originally lent support to HR2 until amendments, such as an increase to minimum liability insurance requirements for motor carriers, were added. The highway bill was then combined into a larger infrastructure package and stalled in the Senate.

“Last year’s House-passed highway bill, HR2, included some helpful provisions for OOIDA members, but the bill was marred by several harmful policies that must be modified or removed in this year’s reauthorization to ensure the continued success and viability of small-business truckers,” OOIDA wrote in the letter signed by President Todd Spencer. “OOIDA adamantly opposed HR2 when it moved through the House last year, and our position will not change if the same bill is introduced in 2021.”

The Association said it will again “vigorously oppose” any legislation that includes policies that harm our members. One of those nonnegotiable policies include an increase to the minimum insurance requirement, which OOIDA dubbed the highway bill’s “poison pill” in 2020.

OOIDA provided the House T&I leaders an outline of how to improve HR2 to better support the nation’s truck drivers, who were hailed as heroes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers

Last year’s highway bill called for motor carriers’ minimum insurance requirement to be increased from $750,000 to $2 million. Previous standalone versions of the Insurance Act would have hiked the minimum requirement by about 550% all the way up to $4.93 million.

OOIDA said that neither increase proposal is necessary and points to federal research authorized by the T&I Committee.

As required by the MAP-21 highway bill, FMCSA commissioned the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to research the issue. OOIDA points out that the 2014 report said, “The vast majority of CMV-caused crashes have relatively small cost consequences, and the costs are easily covered by the limits of mandatory liability insurance.” The Volpe report also said that a small share exceed the mandatory minimum, but those cases are often covered by other insurance or assets.

Motor carriers’ minimum insurance levels adequately covers damages in all but 0.6% of crashes, the report said. In addition, the industry norm is to carry $1 million in coverage. All but 0.3% of the crashes were adequately covered by $1 million in coverage. The cost of the average crash was about $18,000, the report said.

“What studies haven’t shown is any improvement to safety associated with increasing insurance requirements,” OOIDA wrote. “There is no reputable research indicating an increase of any amount would help reduce crash rates.”

OOIDA said the measure is nothing more than an opportunity for trial lawyers to receive higher payouts from settlements at the expense of American businesses, many of which are still struggling amid the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic.

“This policy does not belong in legislation that is designed to support economic recovery and encourage growth,” OOIDA wrote. “Additionally, its inclusion will prevent the bill from garnering any substantial bipartisan support.”

The Association is not alone in its opposition of the measure. More than 60 organizations in the trucking, agriculture, materials, manufacturing, and towing industries have formed a coalition with OOIDA to fight any attempts to mandate an increase.

Commercial motor vehicle parking

Last year’s highway bill included $250 million for commercial motor vehicle parking projects. OOIDA said it appreciated that lawmakers acknowledged the need to address the nation’s truck parking crisis but would like to see an ever greater commitment in the next highway bill.

“OOIDA favors a multiyear authorization with significantly higher levels of investment that focus exclusively on expanding truck parking capacity,” the Association wrote.

The bipartisan Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act, which OOIDA helped craft, would dedicate $755 million from the Highway Trust Fund for truck parking capacity expansion projects.

Tolling and congestion pricing

A provision in HR2 would have diverted tolling revenue to nonhighway assets. OOIDA opposes the provision.

“As the Highway Trust Fund is already suffering from a lack of adequate and sustainable funding, it is unconscionable that Congress would allow the diversion of more resources away from activities that benefit the limited number of users currently paying in to the system,” OOIDA wrote. “The committee must take steps to not only limit the tolling of currently nontolled highways but also ensure revenue is being used exclusively for the maintenance of the tolled asset.”

The Association said it also has serious concerns about the expansion of congestion pricing included in HR2. The rigidity of current federal hours-of-service requirements force truckers to drive through metropolitan areas during rush hour, OOIDA wrote.

Automatic emergency braking

OOIDA does not want an automatic emergency braking mandate included in the next highway bill, saying it doesn’t want to see the creation of arbitrary deadlines for the adoption of technology that remains flawed.

“OOIDA members have routinely shared practical concerns with current AEB technology, including difficulty controlling trucks in inclement weather when systems are activated, unwarranted activations, and highly distracting warnings and false alarms,” OOIDA wrote.

Underride protection

The Association wants to keep any measures that could lead to an eventual side underride guard mandate from being included in the highway bill.

“Side underride guards remain an unproven technology and present legitimate operational challenges for drivers,” OOIDA wrote. “They also increase costs for trucking businesses, while displacing payload due to existing weight restrictions for commercial motor vehicles.”

OOIDA supports eliminating any language regarding side underrides in the next highway bill. However if the committee chooses to address the issue, the Association asks for the measure to focus exclusively on gathering additional research and improving crash reporting.

Other suggestions

OOIDA’s guidance to lawmakers for the next highway bill also includes that:

  • Motor carriers’ safety data should not be publicly available until the methodology for generating ratings have proven to be fair and accurate.
  • There is insufficient data demonstrating a relationship between moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea and crashes involving a commercial motor vehicle and that a sleep apnea screening mandate should not be included.
  • Any attempts to create a vehicle-miles-traveled tax pilot program should not be a new tax levied on top of the numerous fees motor carriers currently pay into the system that other highway users do not.
  • There should be no further delays to the entry-level driver training final rule.
  • Excessive detention time should be addressed.
  • The growing problem surrounding B-1 temporary visas used by long-haul trucking operations be addressed.
  • The Unified Carrier Registration program is unnecessary and should be repealed.
  • The Association applauds the inclusion of small-business motor carriers on the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee.
  • Data transparency should be required regarding the development of autonomous vehicles.
  • The federal definition of a traditional automobile transporter should be clarified
  • The lack of broker transparency should be addressed.
  • A mandate requiring the use of speed limiters would do more harm than good to highway safety.
  • The minimum driving age of 21 for interstate commerce should not be lowered.
  • Measures to increase the size and weight of tractor-trailers would diminish safety and accelerate the deterioration of highways.

OOIDA’s complete letter can be found here. LL

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.