In a flurry of activity before taking their traditional August recess, both the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced legislation to create a new governmental organization to oversee the safety regulation of motor carriers. At the same time, the Department of Transportation began to reveal its proposals to improve motor carrier safety without creating a new administration.
In the House, Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA), along with Reps. Thomas Petri (R-WI), James Oberstar (D-MN), and Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced legislation to establish a National Motor Carrier Administration (NMCA) within the DOT and to make several changes to motor carrier safety regulations. In the bill, the new NMCA is given the goal of improving trucking safety as measured by a reduction in accidents and better industry compliance with safety regulations.
Highlights of this bill include:
- An independent National Motor Carrier Administration;
- The creation of a motor carrier safety advisory committee made up of various private parties including motor carriers, drivers, safety advocates and other persons;
- A requirement that the toll-free hotline for drivers be staffed 24 hours a day with live personnel who know the motor carrier safety regulations. (OOIDA convinced lawmakers to establish this hotline a year ago to allow drivers to report pressure placed on them to violate safety regulations and to give drivers accurate information about the law);
- The disqualification (by order of the Secretary of Transportation) of a driver from operating a commercial motor vehicle if he is found to be driving on a suspended license;
- Initiation of a rulemaking to determine when the conviction for a serious violation while driving a private vehicle should disqualify a driver from operating a commercial motor vehicle;
- An increase in efforts to bolster the number of inspections at international border crossings;
- More comprehensive collection of data on the causes of truck crashes.
The Senate's legislation introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) creates a "Motor Carrier Safety Administration" within the DOT. Its safety mandate is to follow the recommendations that accompanied the recent report of the DOT's Inspector General criticizing the effectiveness of the OMCHS.
Other highlights of the McCain bill include:
- The prohibition of a state from issuing a CDL to anyone who has been disqualified from operating a CMV or whose driver's license has been revoked, suspended, or canceled;
- A requirement that medical certification be part of a CDL;
- Improved data collection on the causes of commercial motor vehicle crashes;
- The establishment of privacy standards for "event recorders" that are equivalent to those for devices used by the Federal Aviation Administration;
- The creation of a "Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Advisory Committee."
Both the Senate and House bills would decertify states from issuing CDLs if they do not comply with the new CDL rules. State cooperation with federal CDL regulations is a problem that came to light upon investigation of the drivers in recent truck and bus crashes. State CDL records were found to have masked prior driver violations. Additionally, the CDL approval process in some states did not check if a driver had a CDL suspended by another state.
Both Senate and House bills share a similar philosophy in that they advocate creating a new independent organization dedicated to motor carrier safety.
The DOT's legislative recommendations, on the other hand, concentrate on specific regulatory programs.
Highlights of the DOT's proposal include:
- The prohibition of a state from issuing a commercial drivers license within three years after an individual has been convicted of any drug or alcohol related traffic violation (whether in a commercial motor vehicle or personal vehicle);
- A requirement that new owners and operators attend a safety program before receiving authority to operate as a for-hire or a private carrier;
- New CDL testing and training requirements;
- A requirement for the use of on-board recorders to manage a driver's hours of service compliance;
- A study of how a driver's compensation affects safety and compliance with the hours of service regulations;
- A study of possible improvements to commercial motor vehicles, such as better braking and stability;
- Increased attention to the regulation of railroad grade crossings.
What is the future of all of these legislative proposals? Given the momentum on Capitol Hill for the creation of a new motor carrier administration, and the similarity of the central concepts of both bills, there is a good chance that Congress will approve a new motor carrier administration. The House and Senate bills are straightforward pieces of legislation that initiate few additional regulatory proposals. The theories behind these bills are that a new administration will have the authority and mandate it needs to more effectively do the job that the OMCHS should have been doing all along.
The administration takes a different approach by not changing the structure of the oft-criticized OMCHS, but instead proposes many specific regulatory initiatives to address specific issues raised by its critics during the past several months. Although some of its proposals may be initiated in the future, they are not likely to be viewed by Congress as a substitute for a new motor carrier administration. At the same, time truckers would be wise to communicate with lawmakers on the administration's proposals to study the relationship between compensation and safety; and on the requirement for mandatory on-board recorders.