One of the big victories in the Highway Bill for truckers is the inclusion of language that requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to draft a rule that holds the owners of intermodal equipment responsible for the condition of that equipment.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the requirement has been a long time coming.
"We were focusing on this and hollering and screaming about it back in the Reagan administration," he said. "These container chassis are often times not well maintained. In too many instances, there are defects in the chassis and once the driver gets out of the gate, the real world enforcement takes place."
Spencer said that enforcement usually means tickets for the trucker, as well as a compromise in highway safety for the trucker and others on the highways. Spencer said the new rule will finally make the owners of the containers responsible and give some empowerment to the drivers.
"We want to see the driver be able to take necessary steps to say 'wait a minute, I can't take this because it has defects in it. You've got to fix it or give me another one,'" Spencer said.
Spencer said there are several key issues that have to be addressed in the final rulemaking, not the least of which is the time involved for truckers.
"If a driver has a chassis, and it needs repairs and he's looking at the idea of maybe waiting three hours to get that chassis repaired, that's not really an incentive on his part to do the right safety thing," Spencer said.
While the rule won't happen right away - the bill gives the FMCSA until Aug. 10, 2006, to issue the rule - Spencer said the fact that it was included in the Highway Bill is positive news for truckers.
"(The current) system has existed for so long because the owners of those chassis could simply get away with it," he said. "(The legislation) finally looks like it's a step in the right direction."
- By Terry Scruton, senior writer