Senate approves truck equipment mandates, dispatcher oversight measure

Senate approves truck equipment mandates, dispatcher oversight measure

Jan 25, 2022

The U.S. Senate approved a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Tuesday that mandates several requirements for trucking previously approved by the U.S. House and will likely make it into a final bill.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was approved by a vote of 69-30 that was presided over by Vice President Kamala Harris, is the first major infrastructure package passed by the Senate chamber in decades. It injects $550 million of new funding into expanding and maintaining roads and bridges and a five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s highway and motor carrier safety programs.

“For nearly three decades, our nation and industry have been held hostage by empty promises — all talk, no action. Today, the Senate put America ahead of itself,” American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear said.

“Passage of this bipartisan infrastructure bill is a groundbreaking step toward revitalizing America’s decaying roads and bridges, supporting our supply chain and economy with the foundation they need to grow, compete globally and lead the world. The bill also contains significant measures to grow and strengthen trucking’s essential workforce.”

The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), which lobbies on behalf of multi-modal projects, pointed out that the legislation provides an “unprecedented” $20.5 billion over five years for three major multimodal discretionary programs.

“The legislation prioritizes our nation’s economic competitiveness in the global marketplace by increasing the level of investment in multimodal freight infrastructure and strengthening the policy and programming that guides those investments,” CAGTC Executive Director Elaine Nessle said.

Among the truck-centric provisions included in the Senate bill that were previously approved in the House are:

  •     New regulations for rear and side underride guards
  •     Regulatory guidance on how truck brokers and truck dispatchers operate
  •     Mandates for automatic emergency braking in new trucks
  •     Establishment of a truck leasing task force

The Senate bill also includes an apprenticeship pilot program for truck drivers under the age of 21, with the intent of establishing new regulations allowing drivers 18-21 to haul interstate commerce. Drivers under 21 currently can only haul freight in the state in which they are registered.

For trucking, notably absent from the Senate bill that was included in the House version was provision increasing truck insurance liability from $750,000 to $2 million.

In addition, the bill did not include a review of the hours-of-service regulations that went into effect in September 2020, nor did it have a provision for new screening requirements for drivers with obstructive sleep apnea, both of which were in the House bill.

The bill was not supported by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents small-business truckers, because it did not take measures to improve truck parking capacity.

“This should have been a bipartisan slam dunk,” commented OOIDA President CEO Todd Spencer. “Instead, the continued lack of action has demonstrated to America’s truckers that, despite all their hard work keeping the country safe and supplied throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they largely remain an afterthought in the Senate.”

The bill now moves to the U.S. House, where there is conflict between the Democrats’ progressive and moderate wings over how to handle the bill. Moderates want an immediate vote on the Senate bill, but progressives want Speaker Nancy Pelosi “to stick by her promise to pass a reconciliation bill before considering the bipartisan bill,” Politico noted.

After passing the bill, Senate Democrats moved directly to taking up a budget resolution that would lead to drafting a $3.5 trillion “soft infrastructure” spending package later this year.

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