12/3/15 Update: “The FAST Act” Still Contains Anti-Safety Provisions

Members of the United States Congress are currently negotiating the final language of a transportation bill known as “the DRIVE Act.” This legislation will have a major impact on everyone using our nations’ roadways in the years to come.

The terms of the Act have been a subject of debate for some time now, and certain anti-safety provisions (such as the proposed increase in the maximum weight limit for commercial trucking) have been defeated. However, the current legislation still contains numerous provisions that must be removed because they present a threat to the health and safety of the public. Some examples include:

Minimum Financial Responsibility for Motor Carriers (House Bill § 5501)

Presently, trucks engaged in interstate commerce are generally required to carry a minimum of $750,000 in insurance coverage. This figure was set by legislation over 35 years ago and has not been adjusted to address the increased costs associated with the catastrophic injuries large trucks often cause to innocent people. Over the past 35 years, medical care costs have increased significantly, as have the financial ramifications of a death or serious disability caused by a negligent trucker.

Recently, the FMCSA, backed by years of data, recommended an increase in these now outdated insurance limits in order to better protect members of the public. The FMCSA received considerable pushback from the trucking industry, but held their ground. Now, having lost the regulatory battle, the trucking industry has apparently turned to its allies in Congress who have inserted provisions which will impose regulatory entanglements to the FMCSA rulemaking concerning minimum insurance requirements for large trucks.

Shipper and Broker Liability (House Bill §5224)

Under current law, shippers and brokers can be held accountable for negligently placing shipments with unsafe motor carriers. However, this may change significantly if certain members of the house get their way. The House Bill offers protection to brokers and shippers based on low, non-performance based standards related to hiring decisions of motor carriers and reduces standards, which effectively remove “safety” from the carrier selection process. The protections offered by this section of the bill are not warranted and must be opposed.

Hours of Service (Senate Bill § 32002)

The fatigue caused by driving too many hours has been proven to be a major contributing factor in fatal truck crashes every year. In recognition of this truth, the FMCSA recently passed regulations imposing new controls over the number of hours which truckers may work without a meaningful rest period. However, the Senate Bill seeks to roll back the protections these regulations provide to the motoring public by allowing certain classes of truck drivers to apply for Hours of Service exemptions.

Teen Truckers (House Bill § 5404 / Senate Bill § 32403)

Statistics don’t lie. It is well-established that young, inexperienced drivers are at a significantly higher risk of causing or being involved in traffic collisions compared to other groups. For example, in 2013 alone, drivers between the ages of 18-20 had a fatal crash involvement rate which was 66% higher than for drivers aged 21 years or older. Given these facts, it should come as no surprise that the minimum driving age for interstate truckers has been 21. That is, until now.

Amazingly, despite the fact the overwhelming majority of the responding public is opposed to lowering the minimum driving age for interstate truckers, both the House and Senate Bills seek to lower the minimum driving age (from 21 to 18 or 19), thereby placing the wheel of an 80,000 lb truck into the hands of less experienced, higher risk drivers.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Data (House Bill §§ 5221, 5223, 5224 /Senate Bill § 32003) 

Through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) CSA program, members of the public are given access to information which can serve to demonstrate the comparative safety history of various motor carriers and bus companies. This data can be invaluable to those seeking to hire motor carriers to transport goods or people, or in holding companies accountable for wrongful conduct. These provisions of the House and Senate Bills operate to hide access to this critical safety information.

Transparency, like we currently have through the CSA, promotes accountability and, thus, improves the safety of the public at large. While there may be ways in which the CSA can be improved, limiting or excluding public access to important safety data is contrary to public safety and should be opposed. 

What You Can do to Help

As a truck accident attorney and public safety advocate, I have seen first-hand the devastation which negligent truck drivers can cause. I urge you to please call and e-mail your representatives, and ask them to remove the anti-truck safety measures from the final bill.