Insurance hike, parking relief not in Senate highway bill

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Updated Jun 18, 2021

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved its version of a highway funding bill that includes a number of provisions and amendments related to trucking. While some provisions in the bill are the same as those included in the U.S. House’s highway bill that passed the committee stage last week, the Senate version does not include a hike to carriers’ required minimum liability insurance.

After passing the committee by a 25-3 vote, the bill will move to the full Senate floor.

“The main focus of today's markup is the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021, and Sen. [Roger] Wicker (R-Mississippi) and I introduced this legislation last week,” said committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). “It makes a big down payment, $78 billion, on rebuilding and revamping our nation's critical transportation infrastructure, a key to our economic future and creating more jobs.”

Unlike the House’s highway bill, which carries a much higher $547 billion price tag, the Senate version also does not include grants to address truck parking shortages and also leaves out any references to sleep apnea screening for truck drivers and bringing back public CSA scores.

[Related: Liability insurance hike left in House's highway funding bill]

Among provisions that are included in the Senate’s Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 are:

  • Automatic emergency braking systems: The bill would require AEBs to be installed on all new trucks. An amendment from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) adds considerations to the provision that would require the DOT to conduct a review of AEB systems currently in use and “address any identified deficiencies” in the systems, as well as consult with representatives of truck drivers regarding their experiences with AEBs.
  • Under-21 apprenticeship program: An amendment from Sen. Cantwell adds to the bill an apprenticeship program for under-21 truck drivers, similar to the DRIVE Safe Act that has been floated in Congress. American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear applauded the addition, saying "this pro-safety, pro-jobs provision will strengthen the U.S. supply chain with a new and rigorous apprenticeship program, bolstering the trucking workforce and raising safety and training standards for its emerging members.”
  • Lease-purchase agreements: Establishes a “Truck Leasing Task Force” to study truck lease-purchase agreements.
  • Underride protection: Requires trailers to be equipped with rear impact guards that are designed to prevent passenger compartment intrusion when a passenger vehicle hits the trailer at 35 miles per hour. It also would require research on the development of underride guards to prevent underride crashes in which the passenger vehicle is traveling up to 65 mph. The provision also calls for additional research into the effectiveness of side underride guards. Finally, the provision calls for the establishment of an advisory committee on underride protection to provide advice and recommendations to the DOT on safety regulations to reduce underride crashes and fatalities.
  • Electronic logging device oversight: Requires the DOT to submit a report to Congress analyzing the cost and effectiveness of ELDs and detailing the processes used by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to review ELD logs and to protect proprietary information and personally identifiable information obtained from ELDs, as well as detail the processes through which an operator can challenge or appeal a violation issued by FMCSA regarding ELDs.
  • Combating human trafficking: Allocates funds to support the recognition, prevention and reporting of human trafficking in commercial vehicles.
  • Brokers: An amendment by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) requires DOT to issue guidance clarifying the definitions of “broker” and “bona fide agent,” and study the role of dispatch services and the extent to which they could be considered brokers or bona fide agents, and clarify the level of financial penalties for unauthorized brokerage activities. 

[Related: House's $547 billion highway bill eyes liability insurance hike, apnea screening, other provisions]