Senate infrastructure bill: the good and the bad

August 13, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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When it comes to trucking, the most noteworthy aspect of the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure plan may have been that it didn’t include a measure to increase motor carriers’ minimum insurance requirement by 167%.

Blocking the “poison pill” provision from the highway bill was a priority for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, as well as organizations from a variety of industries. Efforts to keep the insurance increase out of the Senate bill, which was passed earlier this week, were successful, but OOIDA said the legislation is still far from perfect.

OOIDA opposed the bill, which the House is expected to take action on this fall, after an amendment to add truck parking funding was rejected.

“What we like about the Senate bill is what they left out – a minimum insurance increase, a speed limiter mandate, and a roll back of improvements to hours-of-service rules,” said Bryce Mongeon, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs. “At the same time, what we don’t like is also what they left out, in particular any dedicated funding for truck parking.

“We also have serious concerns about the automatic emergency braking mandate included in the bill. Congress should be taking action to improve working conditions and road safety for truckers, and they shouldn’t have to settle for a bill that merely doesn’t make things worse for them. That’s why we cannot support the bill.”

As part of a recent email to its more than 150,000 members, OOIDA took a look at the trucking provisions in the Senate’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The bad

Congestion relief program

The measure would provide grants to states, metropolitan planning organizations, cities, or municipalities to implement programs designed to reduce highway congestion. The program would allow for projects to use tolling on the interstate system in up to 10 urbanized areas as part of their congestion reduction strategies.

VMT pilot program

The nationwide vehicle-miles-traveled tax pilot program would include commercial motor vehicles and passenger vehicles.

As part of the provision, the secretary of the treasury is ordered to establish, on an annual basis, per-mile user fees for passenger motor vehicles, light trucks, and medium and heavy-duty trucks. The amounts may vary between vehicle types and weight classes “to reflect estimated impacts on infrastructure, safety, congestion, the environment, or other related social impacts.”

OOIDA said that could be potentially problematic for truckers depending on how the factors are calculated.

Automatic emergency braking

The Senate infrastructure billwould task FMCSA with creating a rule requiring an automatic emergency braking system be installed in new heavy-duty trucks.

First, the measure would establish performance requirements for automatic emergency braking systems.

Within two years of the bill being enacted, the U.S. Department of Transportation would be required to complete a study assessing the “feasibility, benefits, and costs associated with installing automatic emergency braking systems on a variety of newly manufactured commercial motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,001 pounds.”

OOIDA says the technology should be perfected before any sort of mandate is put in place.

“They need to do the work to ensure that the technology is reliable and that it works effectively before they put the cart before the horse,” Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs, told Land Line Now earlier this summer.

Underride protection

As part of the Senate infrastructure bill, the Department of Transportation would be required to complete research on side underride guards “to better understand the overall effectiveness.” The report would be tasked with assessing the feasibility, benefits, costs and any effects on intermodal equipment, freight mobility and freight capacity associated with installing side underride guards on newly manufactured trailers and semitrailers with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more.

The bill also would require new trailers and semitrailers to be equipped with rear impact guards designed to withstand a vehicle traveling at 35 mph.it also would require the creation of an advisory committee on underride protection.

OOIDA is against any push toward an eventual mandate of side underride guards. The Association has previously spoken out against the Stop Underrides Act, which would require underride guards on the sides and front of all new tractor-trailers.

Apprenticeship pilot program

The measure would authorize a three-year pilot program for 18-to-20-year-old drivers. Referred to OOIDA as a “watered down version of the DRIVE-Safe Act,” the provision does strengthen trainer requirements and would include a study looking at the effect driver compensation has on safety and retention.

OOIDA remains “staunchly opposed” to allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to enter the long-haul trucking industry.

Asset concessions

The program, which would be funded at $20 million a year over five years, would provide grants for public entities to facilitate asset recycling.

OOIDA is critical that there are no restrictions to ensure that the proceeds of an asset concession are directed to the users who will be using the asset under contract or the infrastructure that is part of the concession agreement.

Diversion of Highway Trust Fund dollars

OOIDA opposes that several provisions allow for funding from the Highway Trust Fund to be used for nonroad purposes.

The good

Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee

The provision would revise the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to include small-business motor carriers and extend the committee through September 2025.

OOIDA said it is important for the agency to listen to commercial motor vehicle drivers in order to improve highway safety.

A newly formed driver subcommittee meet in July with OOIDA President Todd Spencer serving s chair.

Combating human trafficking

The measure would allow funding to support the recognition, prevention, and reporting of human trafficking as well as the detection of and enforcement of laws relating to such criminal activity.

Promoting women in the trucking workforce

The measure would establish a Women of Trucking Advisory Board to identify barriers and industry trends that directly or indirectly discourage women from pursuing and retaining careers in trucking.

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.

National Consumer Complaint Database

The Senate infrastructure 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 provision would require the U.S. Government Accountability Office to examine the National Consumer Complaint Database and to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts to consider and follow-up on complaints submitted to the database, the types of complaints, and awareness of the database.

ELD oversight

The provision would require the U.S. DOT secretary to submit a report to Congress on the processes used by the FMCSA to review ELD logs and to protect proprietary and personally identifiable information. 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.