President signs highway legislation into law

With one day left before the latest transportation funding extension expired, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) securing Highway funding for the next five years. The FAST Act authorizes federal surface programs through fiscal year 2020 providing $305 billion for roads, bridges and mass transit.

President Obama put pen to paper signing the FAST Act into law late December 4th securing long-term transportation funding for the first time in over a decade. The House of Conferees representing both houses signed off on their compromise bill on Dec. 1. Two days later, the House passed the Act by a vote of 359-65 on Dec. 3. That same evening, the Senate followed suit with a vote of 83-16.
The $305 billion comes in reauthorizing the 18.5 cent-per-gallon fuel tax and $70 billion in subsidies. Lawmakers have resisted increasing the federal gas tax and instead are using offsets to bridge the annual shortfall. The $70 billion comes from: tapping into the surplus of the Federal Reserve bank; reducing dividends that are paid to banks; adding additional customs fees; selling oil reserves; and privatizing some IRS tax collections.

Minimum Liability Insurance – In accordance with the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the FMCSA was required to conduct a study on the issue of minimum financial responsibility limits for motor carriers. With skyrocketing medical costs and high-profile crashes i.e., Walmart vs Tracy Morgan and the Skagit River bridge collapse that far exceeded the insurance aggregates, FMCSA floated a proposal to more than triple those minimums to somewhere around $3.5 million. However, studies (including FMCSA’s own study) have shown that roughly half of 1% of all truck-involved crashes even exceed the current minimum levels. Likely consequences of such an increase would be increased insurance premiums, critical driver acceptance policies and the large scale attrition within the workforce. Surely, such an increase would be devastating to the economy, the majority of America’s motor carriers and the insurance industry. In the end, however with a lot of grass roots effort by the trucking industry, the message was received by politicians who have quelled the Agency’s off-base efforts.

The FAST Act includes language that mandates responsible consideration from the FMCSA when introducing language that would increase the minimum liability insurance requirement on trucking businesses. For instance, prior to issuing a final rule, consideration must be given for the potential impact on: the safety of motor vehicle transportation; and the motor carrier industry; the ability of the insurance industry to provide the required amount of insurance; the extent to which current minimum levels of financial responsibility adequately cover medical care; compensation; and other identifiable costs; the frequency with which insurance claims exceed current minimum levels of financial responsibility in fatal accidents; and the impact of increased levels on motor carrier safety and accident reduction.
Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) – The Government Accountability Office, various law enforcement organizations, truckers and politicians alike have been extremely critical of the FMCSA.

So much so that, included in the Act are requirements to thoroughly review and reform the Agency’s procedures. Specific to the trucking industry, the FMCSA is required to commission a study of the Agency’s CSA program and the Safety Measurement System (SMS) utilized by the CSA program. Very important is that from the time of enactment (December 4) and until further notice, the Act requires that the FMCSA remove from public websites any analysis, enforcement and inspection data regarding motor carriers of property.

The CSA study mandated by the FAST Act is charged with getting into the weeds as to the accuracy and benefit of the program – especially with its Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The study will attempt to identify the relative value of inspection information and roadside enforcement data; identify any data collection gaps and the impact of those gaps to the CSA program; and identify the accuracy of safety data including the use of data in which a motor carrier was free from fault and much more.

Hair testing – The regulations permit motor carriers to use hair testing as an acceptable alternative to urine testing in both pre-employment screening and random testing if the operator was subject to hair testing for preemployment testing.
You can view a the full bill at: http://transportation.house.gov/

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