Highway Watch to get new scrutiny

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Georgia’s unique requirement that all drivers applying for or renewing a commercial driver’s license must complete the Highway Watch program ends Jan. 1, thanks in part to lobbying by the Georgia Motor Truck Association. Meanwhile, President Bush signed a law calling for a federal examination of the program’s cost and the need for it.

Georgia’s Legislature only recently passed a law, effective July 2006, that required CDL applicants to complete Highway Watch’s free one-hour safety and anti-terrorism training. Highway Watch is administered by the American Trucking Associations under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Georgia Motor Truck Association asked the Legislature to eliminate the rule starting in 2008, arguing it no longer is needed, said Ed Crowell, association president. About 200,000 of Georgia’s 300,000 truckers already have been through the training, and by 2008, about 90 percent of the state’s truckers will have been trained, Crowell said.

“The job is basically getting done,” he said. “We have accomplished what we want to accomplish.” The training will continue to be available through the association and through truck-driving schools, Crowell said. A few states have required the training for a segment of the population, such as school bus drivers, but Georgia was the first to require the program for all truckers.

The bill President Bush signed Aug. 3, implementing the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, includes a provision that requires the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to issue an audit-type report on Highway Watch for fiscal years 2004 and 2005. That report is due to Congress in three months.

Within a year, the inspector general must complete a second report that analyzes the performance, efficiency and effectiveness of the federal trucking industry security grant program, including the need for the program, by using all years of available data. The report also must make program recommendations.

“I think it’s a broad-based effort by Democrats to get a handle on Homeland Security,” said John Willard, ATA spokesman for the Highway Watch program.

Highway Watch, begun as an ATA safety initiative in 1998, attained a new focus, a new prominence and millions of federal dollars in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Highway Watch received $12 million in federal funds for fiscal year 2007 and a total of $57.3 million since fiscal year 2004.