The FAST Act's Safety Implications



by J.J. Burns

In the past month, two items of legislation have been voted on in the House and Senate, directly impacting users of major roadways. Most recently passed was the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which included several of the recommended safety revisions. Also passed were amendments to a bill regarding safety inspections of double 33-foot tractor-trailers. The decision to amend and pass these bills was a major win for roadway users and the victims of truck crashes. These amendments will no doubt save countless lives, directly and indirectly.  

 

FAST Act receives significant amendments before being passed

On December 1, Senate and House conferees passed the surface transportation reauthorization bill, H.R. 22. The FAST Act was amended before being passed, removing many of the dangerous provisions originally stated in the bill. Several of these policies were aimed at deflecting corporate responsibility in the event of a crash. Thanks to members of congress on the Conference Committee and the citizens who wrote to them, most of these irresponsible provisions were either altered or removed altogether. 

One of the original policies placed in the bill, and one of the more troubling, regarded the functional immunization of shippers and brokers in terms of their selection of motor carriers. The conferees came to the conclusion that these provisions benefited private interests only and elected to remove the policy on behalf of public interest.

The severity of several other provisions within the bill was also significantly mitigated. At one point, there were amendments to the bill that would have defunded the FMCSA rulemaking activity concerning the agency’s assessment of the minimum levels of liability insurance required for commercial motor vehicles. Thankfully, the amendments were removed from the bill, and the agency can move forward with the review and evaluation necessary to increase the minimums.

Another amendment that was tied to the bill allowed for 18-year-olds to operate commercial vehicles across state lines. The safety community rallied against such a measure and restricted the teen trucker pilot program to veterans and servicemen over 18. 

While there were many wins in the FAST Act’s final form, some concerning measures remained in the bill. For example, several industries received trailer weight exemptions. These not only are incredibly dangerous, but also set a precedent, which may lead to more troubling size and weight increases and exemptions in the future.

Additionally, the public has been denied access to Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores. These scores are the report cards of motor carriers, and provide the best information we have regarding the safety of trucking companies’ operations. This information and analysis is paid for by the public and rightly belongs to those whose safety is implicated every day on our nation’s roadways. Hiding this information is not only unethical; it’s also an irresponsible use of the law to hinder accountability.

 

Amendment leads to boosted safety standards on larger trailers

On November 18, 2015, the “Feinstein-Wicker amendment” was passed by voice vote in the U.S. Senate, requiring that a safety study on double 33-foot tractor-trailers be completed before they are federally permitted. Allowing larger companies to use longer trailers would result in increased roadway damage, as well as the potential danger to truck drivers and other travelers. The safety implications of bigger commercial motor vehicles are obvious – longer passing distances, difficulty merging, incompatible infrastructure and less overall control and maneuverability.

In fact, a recent poll showed 77 percent of Americans are not in favor of larger trailers on the roads. It pleases us to see that the Senate listened to the majority of American citizens and not the lobbyists protecting corporate interests. Thankfully, no provision allowing for the use of double 33-foot trailers was included in the omnibus spending bill that was passed by both the Senate and House.

We are thankful to all those who support legislation that makes our roadways safer and resist those laws that endanger motorists. While we consider the most recent legislative developments an overall win for the victims of truck crashes everywhere and their friends and families, the struggle for increased safety and accountability never ends. Dollar, Burns & Becker encourages everyone to contact their state and federal representatives and senators to voice their concerns about highway safety issues.