Congress mandates EOBRs, other safety initiatives
MAP-21 to be signed into law later this week
A massive new transportation funding bill contains numerous provisions that will affect motor carrier safety for years to come, including a controversial mandate that all interstate truck and bus drivers use electronic logging devices to track their hours.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was approved by Congress on Friday, June 29, and is expected to be signed into law. It reauthorizes the government to spend nearly $55 billion per year on highway and transit programs through September 30, 2014, replacing the previous funding bill known as SAFETEA-LU.
Included in the bill is a requirement that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issue a rule mandating that all motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce must use electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) to monitor compliance with hours-of-service regulations. The agency has one year to write the rule, and then drivers would have another two years before they would have to start using the devices.
The EOBR mandate could be placed on hold, however, because Congress is currently debating another bill that would prohibit the Department of Transportation from spending any money on EOBR regulations through fiscal year 2013. The fate of the bill remains uncertain.
In addition to the EOBR mandate, MAP-21 contains numerous other provisions related to motor carrier safety, highway safety, and hazardous materials transportation, many of which are already in development:
- The FMCSA must complete a field study by March 31, 2013, on the effectiveness of the 34-hour restart provision in its hours-of-service rules, including the changes to the restart provision that are due to be implemented on July 1, 2013.
- Within one year, the FMCSA has to issue a rule establishing new, minimum entry-level training requirements for commercial drivers. The training would have to be completed before a driver could obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or upgrade from one CDL class to another.
- Within five years, states will have to be able to accept drivers’ medical certificates submitted electronically by medical examiners. This would eliminate the need for interstate CDL drivers to submit their medical cards to the state, since the examiner would perform that step.
- Within two years, the FMCSA has to establish a national database of commercial drivers who have failed or refused a DOT drug or alcohol test. Employers will be prohibited from hiring any driver who appears in the database and will need to check the database every year for each CDL driver they employ. The FMCSA is authorized to hire a third-party contractor to run the program, and the contractor can charge a “reasonable” fee for each driver record requested.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has to conduct a study within 18 months on the need for crashworthiness standards on trucks weighing 26,001 pounds or more and involved in interstate commerce. The study will have to evaluate roof strength, pillar strength, air bags, and other occupant protections standards, and frontal and back wall standards.
- The DOT has to conduct a study on the safety record of rental trucks over the past seven years, covering trucks weighing between 10,001 and 26,001 pounds, and report the results to Congress within one year, including any recommendations for new legislation.
- Within 2 years, the DOT has to come up with a plan for implementing a “national driver record notification system,” under which state licensing agencies would automatically notify motor carrier employers of any changes to a commercial driver’s record, including convictions, accidents, suspensions, and revocations. Employers would be charged a fee for the service.
- The DOT has to develop rules requiring new motor carriers to undergo a safety fitness review within 12 months of beginning operations, though new motorcoach operators will need the review within 120 days.
- The FMCSA has been granted new authority to revoke the registration and/or take other enforcement action against carriers that violate safety rules, operate without registration, try to evade detection as a “reincarnated” carrier, are declared an imminent hazard, or engage in other unsafe or illegal practices. The agency will be able to order an entire fleet out of service for operating without proper registration.
- The FMCSA has to report to Congress within six months on the appropriateness of the current financial responsibility, bond, and insurance requirements.
- The FMCSA has new authority to require motor carriers to update their registration information within 30 days after a change in the company’s address, contact information, officers, process agent, or other essential information.
- The FMCSA will need to require motor carriers of passengers to update their registration information on a quarterly basis for the first two years after initial registration, including number of vehicles, annual mileage, and the identity of individuals responsible for compliance.
- Within two years, the DOT has to complete a comprehensive, nationwide truck size and weight limits study and compile a list of the existing truck size and weight limit laws in every state.
With regard to hazardous materials:
- The DOT is authorized to conduct pilot projects on using paperless hazard communications systems and has to report to Congress within two years on the systems’ costs and benefits and whether they should be incorporated into the Hazardous Materials Regulations.
- The DOT has to conduct an assessment to improve the collection, analysis, reporting, and use of data related to accidents and incidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials.
- The DOT is authorized to develop a hazardous materials “technical assessment, research and development, and analysis program” for the purpose of reducing the risks associated with the transportation of hazardous materials and evaluating new technologies to facilitate safe and efficient transportation.
- Within 18 months, the DOT has to develop uniform standards for training hazardous materials inspectors on how to collect, analyze, and publish findings from inspections and investigations of accidents or incidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials, how to identify non-compliance, and how to take appropriate enforcement action.
- The DOT has to develop a new rule amending procedures used to inspect hazardous materials en-route. Inspectors will have to provide reasonable notice to the offeror, carrier, or other party of the decision to inspect the shipment, any findings that were made, and any actions being taken as a result. The rule will also have to address the resumption of transportation of perishable materials, including radiopharmaceuticals and other medical products that may require timely delivery due to life-threatening situations.
- The maximum civil penalties for violations of the Hazardous Materials Regulations are being increased from $50,000 to $75,000 and from $100,000 to $175,000 where the violation results in death or serious illness or injury or substantial property damage.
- Within one year, the DOT has to conduct a review and analysis of special permits that have been in continuous effect for a 10-year period to determine which special permits may be converted into the regulations, and then will have another two years to incorporate those permits into the regulations. The agency will also have to establish procedures and criteria for evaluating applications for special permits and approvals, and a means to incorporate longstanding special permits into the regulations.
- Within one year, the Government Accountability Office has to report to Congress on the safety of transporting flammable liquids in the external product piping (wetlines) of cargo tank motor vehicles.