Oberstar’s blueprint for highway bill: a few thorns

| 6/19/2009

A $500 billion transportation spending proposal that was unveiled in Washington on Thursday calls for mandatory electronic-on-board-recorders on all commercial trucks and would set up a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol tests, which employers could check before hiring a driver.

It also calls for tougher training standards for people who are trying to get a CDL – but would leave setting minimum hours of training to the FMCSA.

Transportation officials have floated the idea before of requiring electronic-on-board-recorders, or EOBRs, on trucks with companies that have consistently bad safety records. This is the first time a mandatory requirement for EOBRs on all trucks has been proposed in Congress.

A spokesman for the House transportation committee – which crafted the bill – says lawmakers are considering including a tax break provision that would allow truckers to save some money on the purchase of an EOBR.

EOBRs are used to monitor a driver’s compliance with federal hours-of-service regulations.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer notes that it will probably be left up to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to actually issue the regulations on who, if anyone, is required to get an EOBR – and that truckers would have ample time for input.

Spencer says owner-operators have good reason for not wanting an EOBR.

“It’s a cost that is not going to help a trucker do his job better or safer,” said Spencer. “There is simply no way to justify a mandate of EOBRs on all trucks.”

Congressman James Oberstar, who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is one of the architects of the proposed legislation. He wants the spending bill approved by this fall.

At a press conference Thursday, he blasted the proposal by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that Congress approve a year-and-a-half extension of the current spending bill instead of passing a new one quickly.

In addressing the big question of how programs in the spending bill will be funded, Oberstar and some others on the House transportation committee want to see an increase in the federal fuel tax.

– By Reed Black, staff reporter