Congress ignores big trucking issues in funding plan
The compromise legislation (H.R. 244) passed by Congress to fund the U.S. government through the end of September breaks little ground on issues related to the trucking industry. Although major controversies such as federal preemption, electronic logging devices (ELDs) and larger twin trailers were potentially on the table, none are addressed in the funding package, which was designed to avoid unnecessary conflict. The legislation replaces the initial short-term funding bill that was enacted in December.
The most controversial issue addressed by lawmakers was speed limiters, and that was only in not-exactly-binding direction to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding their jointly proposed rule.
"The agreement directs the agencies to fully and adequately address all comments received from the public," says an explanatory statement accompanying the legislation. "The final rule should address the impact of creating speed differentials on highways and consider the costs and benefits of applying the rule to existing heavy vehicles that are equipped with speed limiting devices."
The explanatory statement also directs FMCSA to carry out the pilot program for younger drivers with military experience that was included in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
H.R. 244 does include some legislative provisions related to trucking, although they are far less controversial than ELDs and federal preemption. The final funding package:
Retains restrictions in place for more than 15 years on the operations of Mexican motor carriers;
Requires that if FMCSA decides to conduct an expedited audit of a new entrant based on certain violations, it must notify the carrier by certified mail, registered mail, or some other manner of delivery that records receipt of the notice by the persons responsible for the violations;
Keeps in place a bar in funding a wireless roadside inspection program until the Department of Transportation certifies that the program:
Does not conflict with existing non-Federal electronic screening systems; create capabilities already available; or require additional statutory authority to incorporate generated inspection data into safety determinations or databases; and
Has restrictions to specifically address privacy concerns of affected motor carriers and operators.
The final funding bill fully funds the Obama administration's request more than a year ago for FMCSA operations and grants. However, Congress did not provide any of the additional $150 million that President Obama had sought under what it called "21st Century Clean Transportation Plan investments." Among other things, the Obama administration had requested funds to conduct a new study of truck and bus crash characteristics and to implement changes related to the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, Safety Measurement System, and safety fitness determinations.
The American Trucking Associations has been pushing hard for a preemption against state regulation of drivers' meal and rest breaks. The House version of the Department of Transportation appropriations bill last year included a provision that would have prohibited states from regulating such breaks. The measure was not included in the short-term funding legislation that the latest legislation replaced, but especially with the White House in Republican hands, there was some optimism that the continuing appropriations package would include it.
Another past controversy that might have reemerged was legislation that would allow 33-foot twin trailers, not just the 28-foot doubles that currently are the industry standard. The legislation is being pushed by several major less-than-truckload carriers and a coalition called Americans for Modern Transportation, which includes those carriers and shipper and manufacturer groups. On the other side are safety advocacy groups, the Truckload Carriers Association, and many major truckload carriers. The compromise package does not address the issue.
Perhaps the most talked-about issue in the trucking industry is the impending requirement for commercial drivers to use electronic logging devices (ELDs). The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association in particular has been fighting the ELD mandate in courts, the Trump administration and Congress and has yet to score any victories. Given the desire of Congressional leaders to avoid a showdown over government funding now, it is not surprising that they steered clear of the contentious issue.