Staged crashes amendment rejected from House highway bill

June 30, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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Garret Graves, R-La., offered a bipartisan and seemingly noncontroversial amendment to the House highway bill that would create stiff penalties for those who stage crashes with a commercial motor vehicle.

However, Graves’ amendment, as well as several others that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association described as “pro-trucker,” were rejected by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, June 29.

Other “pro-trucker” amendments that will now not have the opportunity to be debated on the House floor this week involve an increase in truck insurance minimums, ELD data use, automatic emergency braking systems, the definition of auto transporters, and sleep apnea screening. OOIDA is adamantly opposed to the House highway bill, or the INVEST in America Act, in its current form and has referred to the legislation as an “anti-trucker disgrace.”

“House Democrats preventing each of the amendments truckers supported from even being debated on the House floor is extremely disappointing,” said Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs. “Shielding their vulnerable members from difficult votes shouldn’t be the priority.”

The rejection of Graves’ staged crash amendment, which received bipartisan support from Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, came as the most surprising.

The amendment was prompted by recent news of a sweeping conspiracy in Louisiana to stage crashes with commercial motor vehicles in hopes of bilking motor carriers and their insurers out of personal injury settlements. Known as “Operation Sideswipe,” the conspiracy has led to 33 individuals being charged and 25 guilty pleas.

Graves’ amendment proposed stiff fines and prison sentences for those who intentionally cause a crash with a commercial motor vehicle. Under the amendment, a person operating a motor vehicle who intentionally causes a crash with a commercial motor vehicle would be imprisoned for no less than 20 years.

“There is not a federal law that specifically prohibits this,” Graves said. “This provides a specific law outlawing staged accidents. This is bipartisan with Mr. Cuellar, and I urge you to allow us to vote on that amendment to make a federal law that will make this illegal.”

But Graves’ amendment and several others supported by OOIDA did not make it out of committee.

“The fact House Democrats wouldn’t even allow a bipartisan amendment to crack down on the staging of collisions involving a CMV by trial lawyers and others who seek to benefit financially from the crashes is the most obvious sign they simply want to jam this bill through the chamber as is,” Long said. “This is not how policy should be developed, and it’s certainly not how previous highway bills moved through the legislative process.”

OOIDA is now turning its attention toward trying to block the INVEST in America Act from receiving approval on the House floor. The Association issued a Call to Action on Wednesday, June 30, asking its more than 150,000 members to reach out to their lawmakers in opposition of the bill.

OOIDA favors the Senate version of the highway bill, which does not include “poison pill” measures, such as the provision to increase truckers’ minimum insurance by 167%.

Long said the good news is that even if the House highway bill is approved, it will face a fight in the Senate. Last year, a similar highway bill was passed in the House but stalled in the Senate.

“Yet again, this bill has no chance to advance in the U.S. Senate, because it is full of controversial provisions that can’t garner sufficient bipartisan support,” Long said. 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.