House Passes Highway Bill

The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) points out that H.R. 3, the Transportation Equity Act, passed March 10 includes some important amendments. However, Rep. John Boozman’s (R-AK) amendment that would have incorporated hours of service rules with an additional two hours of off-duty time during the driver’s 14 hours on duty was withdrawn with unanimous consent.

Included in the House bill is a requirement for Canadian and Mexican commercial drivers to undergo background checks before being permitted to transport hazardous materials. The background checks would be similar to those required for U.S. operators who haul Hazmat.

Motor carriers, brokers and forwarders would be required to assess a fuel surcharge when regional prices of diesel fuel rise above a benchmark price established by the U.S. Department of Energy.

One toll provision was rejected from the bill. An amendment proposed by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-MN) would have allowed states to impose tolls on interstate highways for newly built or expanded stretches of road to recover construction costs.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to mark up its version of the Transportation Equity Act on March 16th.

Meanwhile, NITL continues to support the current hours of service rule. “The HOS Rule does effectively balance roadway safety and operating efficiency,” says NITL. The League said it felt the 14-hour duty time provides “ample time to perform such tasks as loading, unloading, fueling, vehicle inspection and completion of paperwork that are part of a typical day.” The 10-hour off-duty period, said the League, “increases the likelihood that drivers will report to work properly rested and able to remain alert over the course of the workday.”

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) also supports keeping the current hours of service rules. ATA reportedly said, “. . .the new rules are superior to the old rules from the perspective of overall safety.”

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says drivers are spending more time behind the wheel and roughly 25% are exceeding the daily limit of 11 hours of driving time. In addition, 80% of drivers reported they take advantage of the “restart provision” of the rules that allows them to drive a total of 77 hours in a seven-day period vs. 60 hours under the prior rules.

Claiming that the new HOS rules have the opposite effect of their intended goal of improving safety, the IIHS study says 15% of drivers report dozing at the wheel at least once a month vs. 13% under the old rules.

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