On December 4, 2015, President Obama’s signature placed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act into law just a day after the House of Representatives passed the Act 83 to 16 in a race to beat the date of the expiration of the current funding extension. The impressive 1,300 page legislation is the first long term solution to settling highway and funding issues in more than a decade. The five year Bill will provide $305 billion in funding for roads, bridges and mass transit.
Additionally, the Act will include a number of regulatory reforms on the trucking industry. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, the Executive Vice President of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Todd Spencer stated that he believed the Act was a positive compromise.
Effects of the Fast Act on the Trucking Industry
At first glance, most of the provisions that were proposed by both sides appeared to have a fighting chance. Some of the items that were on the trucking industry’s wish list and that of safety advocates were omitted from the final Bill, however.
- The trucking industry had asked that federal law allow truckers as young as 18 to operate trucks across state lines. While advocates for the provision claimed that doing so would solve the issue of a long time shortage of truck drivers, safety advocates who opposed the provision cited studies that suggest that younger, less experienced drivers are at a significantly higher risk of being involved in a trucking accident. Instead of including the provision in the Bill, the Act sets up a controlled study that is to be conducted by the FMCSA to determine the benefits and safety impacts of allowing young drivers to join the long haulers.
- While some lawmakers and lobbyists were pushing for more lenient regulations with regards to maximum truck weights and sizes, no measures to change federal weight and size regulations were included in the Bill. Those in favor were asking for weight limits of 91,000 pounds and increased tandem truck length maximums to be raised to 33 feet.
- Some safety advocates had asked that the Bill include language that required that brokers, shippers and others to hire only carriers with satisfactory safety ratings. Since an estimated 400,000 small trucking companies and owner-operators are not rated by the FMCSA, doing so would have put a damper on the business opportunities for these groups. The Hiring Standards provision, therefore, was not included.
- It had been proposed that the current minimum liability insurance limit be raised from its current amount of $750,000. Instead, the Act requires that an investigation be completed that will help determine if the minimum should be raised in the future.
A number of new regulations that will affect the trucking industry did make it into the Act, however. Some of the more important on the list include:
- Much needed CSA reform is in the near future. Until the faults of the program are evaluated and fixed, certain information will no longer be available to the public regarding carriers’ rankings. Some information, like violations and inspection data are stipulated to remain in public view.
- Drug testing in the trucking industry is destined to undergo change. Employers will now have the ability to use hair tests in lieu of urine tests to make overall testing results that report average usage more accurate. Hair testing will be a powerful tool that helps carriers keep habitual drug users off the nation’s roads. Within one year of the Bill’s enactment, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is to provide established guidelines for hair testing.
- While more lax regulations pertaining to driver rest periods and maximum work hours did not make it into the Bill, the Act requires that the FMCSA conduct a study that evaluates how delays during loading and delivery impact a driver’s schedule, performance and pay. The study will also reveal how detention times effect the flow of U.S. freight.
- The Bill requires that the FMCSA reform the rules that govern commercial driver’s license (CDL) issuance. The new law will allow military veterans who have experience operating large equipment that is comparable to heavy trucks to more easily obtain civilian truck driving jobs. It will also allow military veterans to use their experience that was obtained in the military to count towards required skills tests. The Bill will also allow military veterans to obtain their required medical certification from Veterans Affairs doctors rather than only from those in FMCSA’s National Registry of Medical Examiners.
- Tow truck drivers who are removing heavy trucks and other large equipment fromaccidents and emergency situations will now be exempt from federal weight limits on federal roads. The tow trucks must deliver their load to the nearest available repair center, however.