SPECIAL REPORT: Highway Bill includes money for driver education

| 8/9/2005

The Highway Bill, which is expected to be signed by President Bush on Wednesday in Illinois, contains some funding for improvements to driver education programs.

Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for OOIDA, said the money could go a long way toward making the roads safer for both truckers and passenger vehicles. But the bill doesn't just simply hand over funding to the states.

"As a condition to receive those funds, states are obligated to perform," Craig said. "They've added a couple more things that states have to do to receive those funds."

One of those requirements is that states add instructional information to driver's manuals about how to safely share the road with big trucks.

"That's a good thing," Craig said. "They would provide information that would be the best practices for four-wheelers to know how to operate around trucks."

Craig said another provision in the bill allows states to use funding from the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program to enforce traffic regulations for non-commercial vehicles that drive recklessly around trucks. However, there are strings attached to that money as well.

In order to use the funding, states must maintain the same level of enforcement that they averaged from 2003 to 2005. In addition, states are not allowed to use more than 5 percent of the funding from MSCAP for these enforcement programs. Craig said this poses some problems for states whose budgets are already stretched to the limits.

"It sounds like a good thing," he said. "But we have been told by states that if they are required to maintain the same level of enforcement - and they are already maxing out (on funds) - there isn't going to be any extra money to enforce against cars."

But OOIDA's executive vice president Todd Spencer applauded the measures overall because they encourage law enforcement to look beyond just the commercial vehicles on the road.

"The Department of Transportation is now recognizing that highway safety involves every driver," he said. "The reality for truck drivers is, if accidents with trucks are ever going to go down, it's going to take a lot of work on the part of the non-truck driver community to make that happen."

Congress approved the Highway Bill, which calls for $286.5 billion in federal funding for highway and safety projects through 2009, on July 30.

Land Line will provide detailed coverage of other areas of the Highway Bill in coming days on this Web site and on "Land Line Now," which airs daily at 6 p.m. CDT on XM Satellite Radio's Channel 171.

 - By Terry Scruton, senior writer