The six-year, $286.4 billion highway spending bill, touching on many trucking industry interests, received mixed reactions from industry groups.
President Bush signed the legislation in August.
“This bill funds vital new transportation projects, holds the line on gas taxes and avoids adding to the deficit,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. “More importantly for America’s drivers, this bill contains significant new safety provisions, including the creation of a $5 billion core highway safety program.”
America’s truck drivers, however, did not receive the mandatory fuel surcharge that had been considered for inclusion in the massive bill.
The American Trucking Associations takes some credit for blocking the surcharge, saying it would have increased consumer costs for everything shipped by truck.
The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association supported establishment of a surcharge that would cover fuel costs over a $1.10 per gallon benchmark. The surcharge would have been paid by the shippers and passed along to the fuel buyers. The Truckload Carriers Association had also supported a surcharge.
ATA is unhappy that the bill does not write into statutory law the current hours-of-service rule, a strategy that had been sought by the U.S. Department of Transportation and many in the trucking industry. Barring another legislative extension, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will be forced to issue a revised regulation as required by a federal appeals court. FMCSA’s temporary reprieve from the court order runs out Sept. 30.
“We are disappointed that they failed to codify hours of service regulations as the administration requested,” said Bill Graves, the ATA president. “We remain concerned that Congress’ inaction on hours of service will negatively impact overall highway safety.”
The bill, however, did clarify the agricultural exemption to the hours regulations. The exemption would become permanent in federal law and define what agricultural commodities and farm supplies commercial transporters could use during the planting and harvesting season.
The bill defines “agricultural commodity” as any agricultural commodity, non-processed food, feed, fiber or livestock and insects. Farm supplies are any products that aid in the growing or harvesting of agricultural commodities during the planting and harvesting seasons within each state, or any livestock feed.
“It is imperative that commercial transporters of agricultural commodities have the flexibility to meet transportation demands during peak planting and harvesting seasons,” said Fletcher Hall, executive director of the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference. AFTC is an affiliate of ATA.
Another key point of the bill funds programs for law enforcement agents to enforce traffic violations by other motorists around commercial trucks.
Also, the bill would set up a system where carriers could electronically check the safety records of prospective drivers.
The bill allows a limited number of tolls on existing interstates, a provision opposed by the trucking industry. ATA believes the “tolls are an inefficient funding mechanism that double-taxes motor carriers and causes substantial diversion of traffic to other, less-safe roads.” OOIDA and the National Association of Truck Stop Owners also opposed the tolls provision.
NATSO was also disappointed with how the bill addresses commercial vehicle parking needs. “Congress should only fund additional rest area parking when the private sector is unable to meet truck parking demands and in areas where a true shortage exists,” NATSO President Lisa Mullings said.
Another portion of the bill, the Interstate Oasis Program, allows states to partner with interchange businesses to meet highway users’ needs. The program, proposed by NATSO, addresses the closing of many state-run rest areas by setting up signs directing drivers to businesses that have agreed to give non-customers access to their facilities.
“This is a great program that will guarantee highway users a clean, safe place to stop and provides a virtually no-cost solution for states with budget concerns,” Mullings said.
The bill also revises the screening process for hazmat drivers. The bill requires the Transportation Security Administration to tell carriers if a driver fails to meet security criteria.
It also mandates that TSA eliminate duplicative federal background checks. Canadian and Mexican hazmat carriers would be required to undergo similar background checks.
The bill also sets aside $5 million for truck driver training. ATA and others in the industry have voiced increasing concern in the last few years that the driver shortage is serious and getting worse.
Bill Revamps Diabetes Exemptions
The Highway Reauthorization Act, signed into law by President Bush in early August, replaces a provision in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 2003 Diabetes Exemption Program barring insulin-treated diabetics from truck driving.
The act allows insulin-using diabetics to be assessed medically on a case-by-case basis.
“Anytime a discrimination barrier is torn down – as this bill will do for commercial driving – it will have a profound effect,” said Lawrence Smith, chair of the American Diabetes Association.
The exemption program was announced in 2003. The FMCSA planned to use it to end the 33-year-old blanket ban on insulin users operating a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. The ban was to be replaced with a case-by-case assessment that includes more than 50 safety provisions.
The program included a rule that required applicants to have commercial vehicle driving experience, while using insulin, for the three years before applying for an exemption. Because of the prior ban, no interstate driver could fulfill the three-year requirement. However, 27 states grant waivers for intrastate driving, which is legal under federal law, and 11 grant limited waivers.
The ADA noted that Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., worked to alter the program.
Further information is available by calling ADA at (800) 342-2383, or visiting this site.
Legislation Contains Hours Exemptions
The $286.4 billion Highway Reauthorization Bill includes a passage exempting a variety of truck drivers from hours-of-service limits.
For example, the exemptions allow movie producers such as Time Warner and Disney to let drivers rest eight hours daily, instead of the standard 10 hours, on routes within 100 miles of production sites. Propane haulers also get an exemption during winter months and during pipeline emergencies. Other industries exempted include utilities and agriculture.
The propane exemption is primarily a safety issue, said Robert Baylor, communications director of the National Propane Gas Association. Without an exemption, propane distributors were forced to leave some customers in the lurch as they ran out of fuel or suffered gas leaks in their houses, Baylor said. “Shouldn’t our customers be serviced if they run into an emergency?” he said.
Now propane distributors won’t have to rotate drivers as frequently as drivers reach the end of their legal hours, Baylor said. “We expect to save about $90 million in labor costs. These are drivers that marketers would not have to hire to handle emergencies.”
The exemptions cover such specific industries that they won’t affect the majority of owner-operators, said Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
Activist groups Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tried Truckers say the exemptions make highways more dangerous. They argue that more drivers will go without sleep and therefore will be less attentive and more accident-prone.
CRASH and PATT were unable to keep the exemptions out of the bill, but they succeeded on a larger issue: The bill includes no language converting the current hours of service rule into statutory law, as the Bush administration had sought.
That conversion would have kept the rule in effect despite litigation brought against it by CRASH, PATT and Public Citizen. A federal appeals court judge ruled in July 2004 that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had to rewrite the current hours rule because it had failed to consider driver health in devising it.
The FMCSA must publish in the Federal Register a revised rule before the current extension runs out Sept. 30. On July 28, the FMCSA sent the revised final rule to the Office of Management and Budget for approval before publication.
The Bush administration “can provide no comment on the current HOS rulemaking until the rule is published in the Federal Register,” said James Lewis, an FMCSA spokesman. “FMCSA is on track for completing the rulemaking by the September 30, 2005, deadline set by Congress.”
Several industry groups reported that the compliance and enforcement dates may be changed in the revised rule. The Truckload Carriers Association, for example, said there might be a “soft enforcement period” of a few months to allow carriers to adjust to the rule.
The current hours rule strikes a good balance, Craig said. “If you don’t have enough regulation, carriers will use and abuse owner-operators as much as they can. If the rules are too strict, then it affects operations and their ability to make a living in this business.”
Petty Charity Motorcycle Ride Tours U.S.
Two hundred motorcyclists, 25 support vehicles and ride sponsors kicked off the Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America at Freightliner Trucks’ headquarters in Portland, Ore., on July 23.
Freightliner, which sponsors Petty Racing, provided a breakfast for all those involved and an opportunity to inspect several Freightliners.
The nine-day ride took the riders though the South Dakota Badlands and Wyoming before ending their journey in the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C.
The Charity Ride has logged more than 38,000 miles in 11 years. More than 5,000 riders have participated, raising more than $7 million for children’s hospitals and charities.
Kyle and Richard Petty joined the caravan July 24, in Idaho Falls, Idaho, after competing in the Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR race that weekend.
The main beneficiary of the ride is the Victory Junction Gang Camp. The non-profit camp serves children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating exciting camping experiences. Kyle and Patty Petty started the camp to honor their son Adam, who died in a racing accident.
“We were motivated to do something for our neighbors in North Carolina, so now Victory Junction is a place where children in the region can forget about their problems for a week and just be a kid at camp: reading, singing, laughing and making friends, all the while being fully supported by a full medical staff and a state-of-the-art medical facility,” Kyle Petty said.
ATA, OOIDA Differ Over CAFTA
The American Trucking Associations supports the Central American Free Trade Agreement, signed by President Bush Aug. 2, saying it will increase domestic and international economic opportunities for all countries involved.
The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association believes the pact could add to problems created by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Spokesmen for the Truckload Carriers Association and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had no comment on the agreement.
CAFTA creates a level playing field for U.S. trade in Central America by ensuring the seven member countries – El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic – operate under the same trade rules.
Prior to CAFTA, most Central American and Dominican products were allowed into the United States untaxed, but U.S. exports faced stiff tariffs. CAFTA will eliminate tariffs on 80 percent of U.S. manufactured goods and 50 percent of agricultural products.
ATA said that CAFTA will raise the standards in each country because more goods will be available at cheaper costs.
“This measure will boost the flow of goods and eliminate international obstructions to production, distribution and economic opportunities,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO.
Greg Owen, chairman of the Food Transporters Conference, an ATA affiliate, said allowing the United States into such markets will lead to new growth and profitability in U.S. agriculture.
Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president, said the overwhelming number of truckers saw no benefit from NAFTA, which he said is increasing problems with cross-border trucking. “So adding CAFTA to that is just another layer of problems that have never been resolved,” Spencer said. “There isn’t a scenario where we would advise a U.S. trucker to drive his truck into Mexico.”
Because of CAFTA, more than 25,000 U.S. jobs are expected to be created in the first year alone, and as many as 130,000 new positions will be created throughout the next decade, ATA said. U.S. agricultural exports are expected to grow by $1.5 billion annually.
DOT Enforces Number Displays
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has begun enforcing the rule mandating that commercial motor vehicles must display an active, valid U.S. Department of Transportation number.
The rule, which became effective July 5, affects all trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds, all vehicles transporting hazardous materials, all for-hire passenger carriers operating vehicles rated by the manufacturer as having an eight-passenger capacity and all not-for-hire passenger carriers operating vehicles rated for more than 15 passengers.
All such vehicles must show the name of the carrier and the carrier’s USDOT number on both sides of the vehicle. Leased owner-operators must show the number of the carrier they are leased to. Some states require owner-operators to get their own number before their International Registration Plan license plates are renewed.
Some states have truck marking regulations that match the federal regulations: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Intrastate hauling within these states requires a USDOT number.
Vehicles without one are subject to fines.
For the 90 days after the USDOT number is issued, that number-holder is audited by government agents or private contractors.
To secure a USDOT number and learn how to pass a safety audit, call (888) 414-1874.
Energy Bill Includes Aid to Reduce Diesel Emissions
President Bush signed an energy bill in August that has been praised by the American Trucking Associations as helping mitigate costs of emission-reducing equipment and promoting renewable fuels.
“The push toward renewable fuels and investments in new refining capacity serve to prevent high fuel prices from limiting the long-term potential of the economy while also easing the fuel needs of our industry,” ATA President Bill Graves said.
Bush said the law will create $14.5 billion in tax cuts over the next decade and provide incentives to domestic oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy suppliers and alternative energy sources.
“This bill is not going to solve our energy challenges overnight,” Bush said. “Most of the serious problems, such as high gasoline costs or the rising dependence on foreign oil, have developed over decades. It’s going to take years of focused effort to alleviate those problems.”
The law creates the Diesel Truck Retrofit and Fleet Modernization Program. It allows public agencies to compete for $100 million in grants over three years for diesel retrofits or newer equipment. Additionally, carriers will be eligible for $200 million in retrofit grants through the bill’s Diesel Emissions Reduction provision.
It also provides $94.5 million in grants for idle reduction and energy conservation technologies through the SmartWay Transport Partnership over three years. SmartWay is an Environmental Protection Agency program in which fleets and other parties voluntarily work to reduce energy consumption and emissions.
The ATA credits the bill as clarifying the tire excise tax and requiring study of how much of it is collected annually.
The final bill dropped the Bush goal of opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Still, congressional supporters expect to pass that provision in a spending bill later this year, according to a State Department report.
The new law will extend daylight savings time by one month, beginning in 2007.
The Senate passed the 1,724-page bill 74-26 July 29 after the House passed it 275-156 the day before.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, praised the law as improving energy supplies, conservation and developing the new energy technologies. Still, he stated it lacks mandatory measures to reduce global warming and would not significantly reduce foreign oil dependence.
Truck-related Fatalities Increase 3 percent
Highway fatalities involving large trucks increased 3 percent, from 5,036 in 2003 to 5,190 in 2004, announced the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That trend contrasted with 42,636 overall highway fatalities, which NHTSA said was the lowest since record-keeping began 30 years ago. The number of alcohol-related fatalities also dropped for the second straight year.
“We anticipate the vehicles-miles-traveled/large truck fatality numbers due this fall from the Federal Highway Administration to confirm that truck safety continues to improve,” said Mike Russell, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations. ATA often points to the rate of fatalities per million miles traveled as a more accurate gauge of truck safety.
Eric Bolton, a NHTSA spokesperson, said that numbers give no suggestion of who was at fault, or why the accident occurred.
“We only look at the numbers of instances, there is no fault. All we are doing is quantifying the accidents that occur and what kinds of vehicles were involved,” Bolton said.
The District of Columbia’s number of highway fatalities took the biggest percentage drop – 36 percent – while Vermont, with a 42 percent increase in the number of highway fatalities, saw the biggest percentage gain.
The 2004 nationwide highway fatality total was 248 less than the 2003 total, 42,884. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.46 in 2004, down from 1.48 in 2003. The rate has been improving since 1966, when 50,894 people died and the rate was 5.5.
Norman Mineta, the U.S. secretary of transportation, said that the lower rate is attributable to safer cars, more people using seat belts and the safety laws the U.S. Department of Transportation has pushed for.
“As long as the number of highway deaths remains as high as it is, we will keep advocating for the kind of vehicles, roads and driving habits that make people safer in their cars and trucks,” Mineta said.
Twenty-two states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, now have primary safety belt laws, and this has led to an all-time high safety belt usage level of 80 percent. Also, all states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, now have 0.08 blood alcohol laws for drivers.
NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System also shows that between 2003 and 2004:
A new Love’s Travel Stop is now open in Chandler, Ariz., at the intersection of I-10 and Sundust Road. This makes 112 Travel Stops now open and is the sixth of 15 new locations scheduled to open in 2005. This is the first Travel Stop to have an RV lane for gas and diesel fueling.
The Fraternal Order of Police at the Pennsylvania State Lodge is organizing a Sept. 24 convoy around Harrisburg’s capital beltway as part of the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Torch Run to benefit Special Olympics. Qualifying trucks include semis, truck/trailer combinations, large trucks, low boys, dump trucks, flat beds, buses, and large tow trucks. A single entry costs $100, and other sponsorships are available. Information is available by calling the Special Olympics at (800) 700-8585.
Mack Supplies Postal Service
Mack Trucks will supply more than 1,400 trucks to the United States Postal Service by the end of 2006. The 1,180 Vision highway models and 226 MR vocational models will be used at more than 200 postal service locations across the country.
Share the Road Website
The American Trucking Associations’ Share the Road website, www.atastr.com, went live July 26. The site is designed to teach the motoring public about large blind spots that surround 18-wheelers. The STR program is sponsored by Mack Trucks and Chevron Delo. STR plans to regularly update the site with new information and fresh perspectives on how to keep highways safe.
Indiana Petro Petro Stopping Centers has opened a truckstop in Remington, Ind., off I-65, at Exit 201 and U.S. Highway 24. This is the fourth Petro location in the state and the 63rd nationwide. The site contains a Petro:Lube truck service center and a Travel Store. The facility also offers eight fueling lanes and overnight parking for 150 trucks. The installation of a new Iron Skillet Buffet, with carving station, is planned for the fall.
Diesel Nears Record High
National diesel fuel prices jumped almost 6 cents, from $2.348 to $2.407, between Aug. 1 and Aug. 8. The most recent average is just a tenth of a cent below the all-time retail national average, $2.408, for the week ending July 11, based on U.S. Department of Energy figures.
Freight Index Up Slightly
The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ May Transportation Services Index for freight, 113.1, climbed half a point from April’s 112.6. It was the third consecutive monthly increase. A year ago, the freight index was 110.5. The TSI is a seasonally adjusted index of the month-to-month changes in the output of services provided by the for-hire transportation industries, including railroad, air, truck, inland waterways, pipeline and local transit.
Freightliner Trucks recently unveiled the company’s redesigned website, www.freightlinertrucks.com. The site features improved navigation, updated graphics, interior and exterior product photography, search engines for new and used trucks and dealer parts and service information. The site focuses on industry application segments. Users can search for vehicles by model name or from an application list.
Biodiesel fuel is now being sold at the Love’s Travel Stop in Midlothian, Texas. The truckstop had been working with Willie Nelson’s BioWillie Diesel Fuel to supply the fuel to that location. Biodiesel is a clean burning biodegradable fuel that is produced domestically.
Truckstop Ministries is sponsoring a Truckers Reunion and Driver Appreciation Day, Sept. 24-25, at Bob Ryan’s Atlanta South TA Truck Plaza at Exit 201 off I-75, in Jackson, Ga. A tent will house free food for truckers. Door prizes will be given out and ministers will be on hand. For more information, call (800) 248-8662, or check out this site.