Senate highway bill includes measures aimed at hearing from truckers

June 17, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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Although truckers may like the Senate’s highway bill best for what’s not in it, there are also measures in the legislation that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 by a vote of 25-3 on the Wednesday, June 16. The bill does not increase motor carriers’ insurance costs, and it does not mandate obstructive sleep apnea screenings or speed limiters. However, the Senate committee’s version of the highway bill does include several OOIDA-backed measures aimed at hearing directly from truckers and acquiring better data regarding the industry.

“Sometimes our hard work on less high-profile policies gets overshadowed by the major battles over mandates and regulations, but there are several provisions in this bill that are nonetheless important victories for truckers that OOIDA championed,” said Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs.

“While we kept some of the worst policies out, we were able to advance key proposals that will help improve conditions for drivers and small trucking businesses.”

Among the OOIDA-supported provisions are improvements to the National Consumer Complaint Database, and efforts to listen to truckers through the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and a Truck Leasing Task Force.

National Consumer Complaint Database

The Senate highway bill includes an OOIDA-backed provision designed to improve the National Consumer Complaint Database.

Despite the confusing name, the program was created to give the public and commercial motor vehicle drivers a place to file complaints against motor carriers, ELD providers, medical review officers, and substance abuse professionals. FMCSA issued a final rule in 2015 to establish standards for what constitutes coercion. Also under the rule, drivers were asked to submit potential violations to the database.

In 2019, Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, and OOIDA called out the program’s inability to address driver coercion, as well as other complaints from drivers about motor carriers violating safety regulations.

“Unfortunately, drivers have informed me this process is wholly ineffective, discouraging them from submitting complaints,” Babin wrote. “The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, who submits complaints on behalf of their members, tells me truckers routinely receive minimal follow-up from the agency and often never find out what happened to their complaint. Worse, drivers have reported that the agency has even lost track of their pending complaints, leaving little hope for resolution.”

The measure in the Senate bill mandates that the U.S. comptroller general report to the committee within 18 months on the effectiveness of the program.

The report would include:

  • An identification of the top five complaint categories.
  • An identification of the process FMCSA uses to determine which entities to take enforcement action against.
  • A five-year review of the database website ending on Dec. 31, 2020.
  • A review of efforts taken by the FMCSA to raise awareness about the program.
  • Recommendations for improving the usability, review of complaints, awareness, and confidence in the complaint process.

Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee

The Senate highway bill would revise the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to include small-business motor carriers, as well as extend the committee through September 2025.

OOIDA President Todd Spencer serves on MCSAC and has spoken out against regulations that aren’t proven to improve safety.

In addition, FMCSA announced earlier this year that Spencer would serve as chairman of a new commercial motor vehicle driver panel. The 25 drivers on the panel are slated to serve as a subcommittee to MCSAC and will be asked to provide direct feedback to the agency on issues facing truck and bus drivers.

Truck Leasing Task Force

The Senate bill also calls for the establishment of a Truck Leasing Task Force aimed at examining common truck leasing arrangements and the existence of inequitable lease agreements in the motor carrier industry.

The task force would include up to 10 people with at least one representative each from labor organizations, motor carriers that provide lease-purchase agreements to owner-operators, consumer protection groups, members of the legal profession who specialize in consumer finance, owner-operators with lease-purchase experience, and businesses that provide or are subject to lease-purchase agreements in the trucking industry.

Part of the task force’s job will be to examine the impact of truck leasing agreements on the net compensation of commercial motor vehicle drivers, including port drayage drivers.

The task force also would provide a report on how to educate drivers before they enter into a lease agreement and how to assist drivers who entered into a “predatory” lease. The task force would be asked to provide recommendations relating to changes to laws and regulations to promote fair lease agreements.

OOIDA-opposed measures in the Senate highway bill

OOIDA approves of several measures in the bill and likes several items that the Senate version left out, but that doesn’t mean the Association is happy with everything in the legislation.

OOIDA opposes measures that call for an automatic emergency braking mandate, as well as language involving side underride guards.

The Association will continue to oppose those measures, as well as an amendment to create a pilot program for under-21 drivers, but maintains that the Senate highway bill is an improvement from the version the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved last week.

“While the Senate legislation contains and automatic emergency braking mandate for new trucks and concerning language involving side underride guards, the Senate version is more favorable to professional drivers and owner-operators than the House Transportation Committee’s anti-trucker disgrace passed last week,” OOIDA wrote to its members on June 16.

The complete Senate highway bill 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.