On December 3, 2015, Congress passed the five-year, $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, increasing federal highway spending by 5 percent and transit spending by 10 percent for 2016, and at lower rates in subsequent years through 2020. It’s the first long-term transportation bill Congress has passed in more than a decade, and it’s already renewing confidence in the future of the nation’s transportation system.
More funding, more predictability
Since Congress traditionally makes transportation spending commitments for only a few months to two years in advance, most states have been struggling for years to make long-term transportation plans. Federal funds are vital for state DOT budgets, and they account for 80 percent of most highway construction projects in the U.S. With the FAST Act committing $305 billion over the next five years to improving the nation’s highways, railroads, and transit lines, states are anticipating more money – and a lot more predictability in moving forward with critical transportation projects.
How does the bill impact the trucking industry?
American Trucking Associations (ATA), the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, is applauding the bill as an important step toward improving trucking safety and efficiency. Here are some highlights:
- CSA reform. The bill includes measures to reform the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) flawed Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) safety monitoring system, temporarily removing from public view most of the system’s scores and percentile rankings until the program is evaluated and improved. These scores affect how the public makes business decisions and overall safety determinations of carriers, and the bill is being seen as a victory for data and accuracy in regulatory oversight.
- Driver drug testing reform. The FAST Act allows carriers to use hair testing as an alternative to urine testing for federally mandated drug tests, but not until the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) establishes guidelines for hair testing within a year of the bill’s enactment. Once the standards are set, trucking companies will have a potent new tool to help keep habitual drug users off the road.
- Military vets behind the wheel. For veterans returning from service who have experience operating equipment comparable to a heavy-duty truck, the FAST Act makes it easier to get a CDL and a civilian trucking job by changing some rules and allowing military driving experience to count toward skills and driving tests. Oddly, the bill creates an opportunity for younger veterans under 21 to drive commercial across state lines, but doesn’t currently give non-military CDL holders the same chance.
- Detention time. The bill requires the FMCSA to undertake a study of how driver detention at shippers and receivers impacts those drivers, their schedules, their pay, overall safety, and the nationwide flow of freight.
One point of contention in the industry is the failure of the bill to address the hodgepodge of state rules that could result by allowing some states to impose their own work and rest rules. Since Congress didn’t clarify their intent or the federal government's role in governing interstate commerce, the bill opens the door to a patchwork of state regulations that could be detrimental to the safety and efficiency of the industry. But all in all, the bill is a positive step forward for the industry.
Several proposed changes didn’t make the final cut, but could impact you in the future, including:
- Liability insurance limits
- Size/weight reform
- Carrier hiring standards
- Tolling changes
With these complex and evolving regulations, your risk management strategies are more crucial than ever – and that includes your insurance coverage.
Take time to review your insurance coverage. Are your current policies adequate? Are there any unexpected exposures due to the new regulations? Let our transportation insurance experts at Higginbotham review your coverage and make sure your business is protected from the unique risks you face.