Congress finalizes legislation on motor carrier safety
On Dec. 4, the House and Senate passed the final version of a final version of a five-year highway bill known as Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation before the current short-term authorization expires Dec. 4
The FAST Act includes a number of important changes of interest to trucking including:
A ban on publication of Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program scores (except for motorcoach operators) until the DOT Inspector General certifies that FMCSA has implemented a corrective plan in response to an upcoming National Academies study and has addressed the issues identified in a February 2014 Government Accountability Office report. (FMCSA and its state and local partners will still have access to the data for enforcement purposes, and motor carriers and drivers will still have access to their own data)
Authority for FMCSA to give motor carriers credit under CSA's Safety Measurement System (SMS) for the installation of the latest safety technology on trucks and buses, adoption of enhanced driver safety measures, implementation of safety management programs, and the undertaking of other safety activities
New and revised procedures for handling regulatory impact analyses, regulatory guidance, petitions for rulemaking and applications for exemptions
Authority for motor carriers to use hair testing as an alternative to urine tests to screen for possible drug and alcohol use by commercial truck and bus drivers once standards have been established by for the Department of Health and Human Services
As far as motor carrier legislation is concerned, the FAST Act generally combines the provisions of the House and Senate bills. However, there were a few controversial provisions that were dropped altogether, including:
A House provision that would have preempted state and local regulation of meal and rest breaks. It also would have prohibited state and local governments from requiring carriers paying employees on a piece-rate basis from paying separate or additional compensation provided that the total pay divided by total hours worked is at least equal to minimum wage.
An “interim hiring standard” in the House bill that would have protected shippers and brokers against negligent selection lawsuits as long as they used licensed and insured carriers that had satisfactory safety ratings. Only about 5% of carriers have satisfactory ratings.
A Senate provision that would have allowed tolling on Interstates in certain circumstances
A House provision that would have provided exemptions on a case-by-case basis to drivers that receive fitness determinations from medical examiners that are not on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners
A Senate provision that would have prohibited any revision to driver hours of service regulations for passenger carriers until a study is conducted that properly accounts for operational differences and variances in crash data for drivers in intercity motorcoach service and interstate property carrier operations and between segments of the intercity motorcoach industry.
A Senate provision that would have exempted commuter vanpool operations from safety regulations that apply to interstate operations of commuter motor vehicles designed to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver).
In addition, even provisions that were retained may have been altered significantly. Most notably, both bills included pilot demonstration programs involving drivers under 21. Technically, this provision remains in the bill, but the scope of the program has been very narrowly defined to include only drivers who have served in the military services or reserves who have experience operating commercial motor vehicles or the equivalent. Another example: The House bill would have made numerous recent hours-of-service exemptions permanent; the final version makes only three permanent.
A full summary of the FAST Act is available at www.transcomply.com/FASTAct.