Senate committee advances U.S. DOT secretary nomination

January 27, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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Pete Buttigieg moved closer to being confirmed as the next U.S. Department of Transportation secretary.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved Buttigieg’s nomination by a vote of 21-3 on Wednesday, Jan. 27. The nomination now goes to the full Senate, which is expected to vote in the coming days.

Before the committee vote took place, Buttigieg received a series of questions from senators on transportation issues. Many of those questions surrounded trucking.

While most of Buttigieg’s responses were confined to a “wait and see” approach, the questions do provide some sense of what lawmakers will be trying to get in the next highway bill.

Speed limiters

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., pointed toward a push to require speed limiters on commercial motor vehicles. Federal Motor Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2016, but the proposal stalled.

Blumenthal asked the DOT nominee what he would do to assure that a speed limiter rulemaking is issued promptly.

“If confirmed, I commit to advancing the integration of technology that improves the safety of all road users, potentially including technologies such as speed limiters for commercial motor vehicles,” Buttigieg wrote. “Under my direction, NHTSA and FMCSA would work closely with safety advocates and industry stakeholders to achieve the critical safety goal of reducing fatalities due to speeding.”

OOIDA is opposed to a speed limiter mandate, saying that they create dangerous speed differentials.

Underride guards

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Blumenthal each asked Buttigieg about his take on underride protection on trailers.

Blumenthal wanted to know if he would commit to requiring side underride guards on truck trailers.

“Any technology that can be implemented to improve safety around truck trailers should be carefully considered, and I look forward to working with you on this issue,” Buttigieg wrote in response to the questions from Blumenthal and Duckworth.

OOIDA is opposed to any mandate for side and front underride guards, saying they would create numerous operational and economic challenges. With that said, OOIDA said the establishment of enhanced rear underride guards on new trailers has proven to be a cost-effective way to improve highway safety.

Under-21 drivers

Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Todd Young, R-Ind., touched on the DRIVE-Safe Act and the overall push to allow the minimum interstate driving age to be lowered from 21 to 18.

Current rules allow 18-year-olds to drive intrastate but don’t permit drivers to cross state lines until age 21.

Buttigieg said he is committed to providing opportunities to young Americans but that those opportunities can’t be at the cost of safety.

“Providing career pathways for our younger Americans is essential to building a stronger economy and stronger communities,” he wrote. “If confirmed, I look forward to working you and FMCSA on ways to increase opportunities within the trucking industry without compromising our safety standards.”

OOIDA argues that the DRIVE-Safe Act is motivated by a false premise that there is a truck driver shortage. Instead, the Association says that the mega fleets have a turnover problem because of poor pay and working conditions. OOIDA doesn’t want mega fleets to take advantage of young drivers and acknowledges that lowering the interstate CDL age would create safety concerns for new truck drivers and the traveling public.

Hours of service

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., both showed their support for hours-of-service flexibility, especially in regards to truckers hauling livestock.

“We need to ensure that truck drivers operate under conditions that guarantee their safety of everyone on our roadways,” Buttigieg wrote. “I am eager to engage truckers and better understand their concerns, if I am confirmed as secretary.”

In September, updated hours-of-service regulations went into effect with the goal of providing truck drivers more flexibility to drive when it’s safe and to pull over when they are tired or the conditions are poor.

OOIDA is supportive of the rule changes and continues to push for more safe ways to provide truck drivers with the flexibility they need.

Questions for the Record

A full list of Questions for the Record to Buttigieg from Senate Democrats can be found here and from Senate Republicans here. LL

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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.