Driver enforcement detailed in Obama highway bill draft

| 5/19/2011

Say the words “highway bill” and most people will automatically think highway funding. While that’s obviously in there, most forget that highway bills are also a vehicle for the administration and Congress to set regulatory goals and agendas.

The recently leaked Obama administration’s draft of a highway bill was long on regulatory goals and agendas. Buried deep in the 500-page document is a 66-page section targeted directly at the trucking industry.

While the bill is just a draft, it sends a clear picture of where the administration’s priorities are in terms of regulating the trucking industry.

It kicks off with a section on motor carrier level enforcement. It details a proposed plan to deal with “reincarnated carriers,” or chameleon carriers, and promptly moves on to tackle the issue of chronic noncompliance by motor carriers and their officers.

The section on “Driver Safety Provisions,” however, is a lengthy section zoning in on driver enforcement.

The highway bill is one way that Congress can expand an agency’s authority over groups or individuals previously just outside their enforcement reach.

This draft of the highway bill is obviously teed up to expand the authority of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, at least in a couple of areas.

Traditionally, FMCSA does not directly enforce on drivers, except when the motor carrier they work for or are leased on to is undergoing a compliance review.

The Obama administration highway bill contains a proposed provision that could change all that. Detailed under the “Driver Safety Fitness Ratings” section is a plan for individual drivers to have a safety score assigned to their compliance history. While not expressly stated, it’s apparent that system would occur under Compliance Safety Accountability – or the CSA enforcement program.

The program is already set up to track driver performance; however, this adds the rating mechanism and gives the FMCSA the authority to disqualify drivers from driving because of poor ratings.

In addition to taking a direct approach at enforcing on drivers, the Obama administration also seeks to set up the “National Clearinghouse for Positive Alcohol and Controlled Substance Test Results.”

While there is already a regulation snaking its way through the process, the draft bill indicates that the agency may be seeking more authority on who the regulation governs and the administration agrees that more authority is needed. The proposed provision seeks to give more jurisdiction over drug testing facilities and their employees.

This will be one of many drafts. In fact, Rep. John Mica, R-FL, for example, will also be drafting a highway bill for consideration as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. However, each draft has the chance to find provisions woven into the final highway bill, when it finally passes.