House transportation funding plan requires EOBRs on trucks

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Although the U.S. Department of Transportation wants immediate approval of a short-term surface transportation reauthorization bill, which would allow more congressional deliberation on long-term transportation policy, House leaders released their funding plan requiring electronic onboard recorders on trucks.

On Thursday, June 18, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, released the committee’s plans for the next authorization bill. Joining him were John Mica (R-Fla); Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), Subcommittee on Highways and Transit chairman; and John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.).

Oberstar said the Surface Transportation Authorization Act should be ready for subcommittee action next week. The current transportation funding plan — the Safe Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — became law in 2005 and will expire in October.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood briefed Congress on the Highway Trust Fund, which will be broke by late August, he said. “Beyond keeping the Highway Trust Fund solvent, an immediate 18-month reauthorization provides Congress the time it needs to fully deliberate the direction of America’s transportation priorities,” LaHood said.

In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed rule only required EOBRs by companies with hours-of-service violation patterns. More than 99 percent of carriers would continue to use paper logbooks under the rule, which has not been finalized.

The American Trucking Associations conditionally supports an EOBR mandate, including requiring evidence that it improves compliance and safety. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, however, opposes it. Public Citizen endorses EOBR mandates, as well as asking that the legislation protect highways against heavier and bigger trucks.

ATA applauded the bill, saying it embraces many of its priorities. “This proposal sends a strong signal that reform and expansion of the federal transportation program is essential,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “Timely authorization of the bill is critical to ensure continuity of funding for important highway infrastructure projects.”

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The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program provides federal funding to states for motor carrier safety enforcement activities. From fiscal year 2001 through 2007, MCSAP funding increased 30 percent. “However, over this same period, little progress has been made in addressing the number of deaths and injuries in large truck and bus crashes in the United States; only a 4 percent reduction in fatalities has occurred,” the report said.

In response, the act also would institute new performance measures to focus state efforts on reducing the number of crashes and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. It noted the average cost of a fatal crash involving a large truck is more than $3.6 million, but did not elaborate on what is included in those costs.

The act also would establish a dedicated source of funding for freight-related highway projects and reauthorize the capital grant program for short-line and regional railroads. It would provide states with funding for projects designed to improve freight mobility on the National Highway System and secondary freight routes.
The act also:

Strengthens carrier oversight by FMCSA and its state partners;

Amends the compliance review process to focus on vehicles and drivers;

Requires additional review to identify and prevent “reincarnated” carriers;

Ensures states will comply with federal commercial driver’s license requirements by the end of the authorization period;

Institutes training requirements for drivers before obtaining a CDL; and

Establishes a drug and alcohol testing clearinghouse for commercial drivers.

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act can be read here.