President Bush on Aug. 10 signed into law the so-called highway bill, which authorizes $286.4 billion in surface transportation projects and establishes numerous new mandates and standards for the regulation of motor carriers. And despite strong opposition from the trucking industry, the legislation provides for up to three projects to toll existing interstate highways.
The legislation also is remarkable for what it omits — a mandatory fuel surcharge and statutory protections for the current hours-of-service regulations. Because Congress did not codify current rules, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration must issue new hours rules by Sept. 30 to comply with a court order last summer. The Department of Transportation has sent its final draft to the White House for review.
Some other provisions of the legislation include:
Although Congress turned away attempts to codify the hours-of-service regulations, the highway legislation includes several provisions to grant or expand HOS exemptions. Drivers of utility service vehicles are permanently allowed to operate under the rules that were in effect prior to Jan. 4, 2004. Those drivers have been exempted from the new rules under a provision in the Department of Transportation funding law, which must be renewed annually.
HOS exemptions also were approved for drivers of trucks used in motion picture production and for propane haulers during winter months and during pipeline emergences. The provision with broadest application, however, probably is the one covering drivers of agricultural commodities and farm supplies. The measure makes this exemption permanent — it’s currently in effect at FMCSA’s discretion — and expands the types of commodities, supplies and hauling covered.