OOIDA tells T&I Committee it no longer supports highway bill

June 19, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s decision on Thursday, June 18, to reject an amendment to add the DRIVE-Safe Act to the highway bill was favored by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

However, the action was too little too late in the eyes of OOIDA. The Association already pulled its support from HR2, the INVEST in America Act, after an amendment to more than double the minimum insurance requirement was approved on Wednesday, June 17. OOIDA referred to the amendment as a “poison pill” to legislation that includes several provisions considered positive to small-business truckers.

Proposed by Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., the amendment calls for the minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers to be increased from $750,000 to $2 million. OOIDA said the measure would decrease highway safety and force many small motor carriers out of business.

“While we firmly supported the bill when it was introduced, the addition of the Garcia amendment has left us no choice but to reverse our position,” OOIDA wrote in an email to members of the House T&I Committee. “We cannot support legislation that will cause many of our members to lose their businesses and livelihoods. An overnight increase in minimum financial responsibility of 167% will undoubtedly devastate many small trucking businesses. The 265,000 single-truck operators working in America today will be particularly at risk.”

OOIDA has long contended that there is no correlation between insurance coverage and highway safety and that drastically increasing the insurance minimum would likely force many small motor carriers out of business. Doing so, the Association said the amendment would actually decrease safety as it would remove some of the most experienced and safest truck drivers from the industry.

The Association said only 0.06% of crashes result in damages that exceed the current $750,000 minimum.

OOIDA President Todd Spencer said the decision to dramatically increase the insurance rates would be “disastrous” during a time truckers are struggling to stay in business amid historically low freight rates.

“We are deeply disappointed many of our members may fail to stay in business long enough to benefit from several pro-trucker provisions included in HR2,” OOIDA wrote.

Initial bill

OOIDA had indicated support for the initial version of the highway bill, which included increased funding for highway construction, $250 million for truck parking projects, new restrictions on tolling, limits to excessive detention time and predatory lease-to-own schemes, and further analysis on H-1B visa use within the trucking industry.

The Association said another positive aspect of the initial highway bill was what wasn’t included. The original version didn’t include mandates for speed limiters or side underride guards, an increase in weight limits, or the DRIVE-Safe Act, which would move toward allowing 18-year-olds to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. It also didn’t include an increase in minimum insurance requirements.

But that all changed when the committee approved Garcia’s amendment via a roll call vote during a markup hearing on Wednesday.

Markup hearing

Other portions of the markup hearing, which lasted Wednesday and Thursday, were mostly considered positive by OOIDA.

Attempts to add the DRIVE-Safe Act and a side underride guard pilot program were defeated. An amendment that would have eliminated funding to address the truck parking shortage crisis also was rejected.

A couple of amendments supported by OOIDA were approved. The committee voted for an amendment proposed by Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill, that prohibits truck parking grant recipients from charging fees to park at facilities constructed or repurposed with public funds. The committee also approved an amendment proposed by Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to prioritize COVID-19 testing for critical infrastructure workers.

The overall highway bill, which plans to invest nearly $500 billion into the nation’s roads, bridges and highways, was approved on a 35-25 party-line vote on Thursday night.

Mark Schremmer

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.