Big CSA reform highlights Senate highway bill that moves closer to passage

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CSA’s SMS percentile rankings would, under the DRIVE Act provisions, be removed from public view until FMCSA implements fixes to the program, its data quality woes and its ability to judge carriers effectively.CSA’s SMS percentile rankings would, under the DRIVE Act provisions, be removed from public view until FMCSA implements fixes to the program, its data quality woes and its ability to judge carriers effectively.

The U.S. Senate’s transportation and commerce committee late Wednesday, July 15, stamped approval on a wide-ranging transportation regulatory package that would if passed remove CSA’s carrier percentile rankings from public view, allow some under-21 CDL holders to operate interstate and allow carriers to use hair testing in lieu of urine tests for driver drug screening.

The regulatory package now is a companion piece to the DRIVE Act, already passed by another Senate committee, and the two form the framework for a long-term highway bill. The DRIVE Act is a six-year, $275 billion highway bill and would be the first multi-year bill since 2012’s MAP-21.

The bill and the corresponding regulatory package, however,  now face one of their toughest challenges yet: Being awarded funding by the Senate’s Appropriations Committee.

The Appropriations Committee must figure out a way to fund the legislation, which calls for a so-called repatriation tax — a plan that incentivizes U.S. companies to bring foreign earnings back to the U.S. at a one-time lower tax rate — as its main funding mechanism. The chamber’s appropriators, however, must approve that plan before the legislation goes to the full Senate.

The legislation also still needs to be cleared by the House, which just this week passed a five-month extension of MAP-21, a sign that the lower chamber may not take up the Senate’s long-term bill before Congress’ annual August recess, despite members of both political parties in the Senate saying they would reject the House’s extension.

The Senate bill, in addition to removing public scores in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, would require FMCSA to perform a comprehensive study of the CSA program, its data and whether its scores can be used to accurately predict carriers’ crash risk.

It would remove the scores in CSA’s Safety Measurement System from public view until a “corrective action plan” has been published and implemented.

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It also would direct the agency to develop a plan to reward carriers within CSA if they adopt safety technologies or programs not required by law and to develop a website dedicated to listing such technologies, how CSA scores are calculated and safety tech pending government mandate.

The bill also seeks to better CSA by implementing things like data review, study of accident reports and quick on-site reviews of high risk carriers, all in hopes of improving the program’s data quality.

And in addition to allowing testing of hair samples to satisfy driver drug testing requirements, the bill would direct FMCSA to “ to establish a six-year pilot program to allow states to enter into interstate compacts to allow for appropriately licensed drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 to travel in interstate commerce,” similar to a standalone bill introduced last month.

The bill would also change windshield-mounting rules to let carriers mount safety devices, such as forward- and driver-facing cameras, to windshields.

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