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White House reviewing higher insurance requirement

The Dept. of Transportation (DOT) has sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a draft advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) to consider an increase in the minimum insurance requirement for motor carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also is considering extending financial responsibility requirements to private motor carriers as Congress authorized nearly a decade ago and to passenger carrier brokers as well as freight brokers and forwarders.

In an April 2014 report to Congress, FMCSA said it would develop a rule that would increase the minimum liability insurance level above the current $750,000 for property carriers and might impose a financial responsibility requirement on private motor carriers for the first time. The report was required by the 2012 highway program legislation known as MAP-21.

FMCSA said that the legislative history of the minimum insurance requirements suggests that Congress recognized that crash costs would change and that DOT would periodically examine the levels and make necessary adjustments. The agency has determined that the current financial responsibility minimums are inadequate to fully cover the costs of some crashes in light of increased medical costs and DOT’s revised value of statistical life estimates.

Following the April report, FMCSA put the rulemaking on a fast track. The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee devoted its May meeting to the issue. That meeting involved not only a presentation by FMCSA staff to the MCSAC but also a presentation by several personal injury attorneys.

According to the latest monthly DOT rulemaking report, FMCSA expects a quick OMB review and plans to publish the ANPRM by the end of October.

All the effort could be for naught, however. In a strictly partisan vote in June, the House narrowly voted to block DOT and FMCSA from adopting an increase in minimum liability insurance levels. The provision was part of the DOT appropriations bill for fiscal 2015, which began yesterday. The DOT funding bill stalled in the Senate, however, so the provision has not been adopted.

On Sept. 19, Congress adopted a continuing resolution funding the government through Dec. 11, which means the details of DOT funding will be settled during a post-election lame duck session as part of a long-term appropriations bill. That bill will resolve a couple of major issues of interest to trucking – minimum insurance levels and a potential suspension of the changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) restart provisions.

Given the 214-to-212 vote in the House and Democratic control of the Senate – at least through the lame duck session – it seems unlikely that Congress will block FMCSA from proceeding with the rulemaking.

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