The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed its version of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 after days of fiery debate and multiple amendments. Some of the last-minute changes are aimed at making our roads safer, while others are certain to lead to more accidents involving 18-wheelers, semis and other big rigs if they gain White House approval.
The six-year, $325 billion package has been a hot-button issue for politicians and safety advocates alike since it was first introduced. Trucking industry leaders and safety advocates spent countless hours and dollars lobbying elected officials in hopes of preserving their favorite provisions while working to scuttle those they opposed.
The House version of the bill that was sent to President Obama eliminated the proposed graduated commercial driver’s license (CDL) program that would allow drivers under the age of 21 to operate tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks. We labeled that effort as the worst idea ever in an earlier post.
The trucking industry’s push for bigger trucks also came up short in the House version. The legislation that was introduced would have increased the weight limit for big rigs to a mammoth 91,000 pounds with an extra, sixth axle. Unbelievably, supporters claimed that bigger semis would be safer than the 80,000 lb. five-axle trucks that already cause incredible damage to our highways and are involved in many death and injury accidents every year. For some additional perspective, the M4 Sherman tanks used by the U.S. in World War II weighed less than 70,000 lbs. each.
Even though those two ill-reasoned provisions and others were eliminated, several items that were passed in the House vote will do anything but protect drivers on the nation’s roadways if signed into law.
One of the more notable amendments that will have a negative impact on safety will prohibit states from imposing labor laws and regulations on trucking companies that are subject to the Department of Transportation’s rules governing the allowable hours of service (HOS) for drivers. Supporters say this amendment was needed to align state and federal policies, but the real result is that truckers and trucking companies no longer will be subject to minimum wage and rest break laws imposed at the state level.
While no one expected the massive bill would reach the White House with all the needed safety considerations intact, it is good to know that we are much less likely to see 91,000 lb. trucks traveling down the road with 18-year-old drivers behind the wheel.