Congress beats the odds

Safety initiatives are numerous in the latest highway bill

They did it. Congress has finally found a way to pass a highway bill that will be in place for a little over two years. Oddly enough, if oddsmakers had been taking bets on this in Vegas when the conference committee convened in May, the winnings may have been enough to pay for some new programs. Most people who were following this issue, including myself, would have placed a bet that any reauthorization would not have gotten done until after the election.

So here we are now, with Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), a long-term funding mechanism for states to plan extensive work on their infrastructure by repairing crumbling roads or even building new ones. While the funding remains relatively the same, it does provide an opportunity for states to know what will be in place until September 2014. And knowing what will be in place is half of the equation, as this bill will hold states accountable to ensure that they are using the funds to enhance the economic productivity of our road system. In other words, government transparency is beginning to reappear on the table.

In addition to the funding mechanism, transparency rings true on the safety titles as well, as the bill does include significant plans for safety improvement. Congressional support for mandates on electronic logging devices (ELDs), a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse, a driver notification system, and a study of crashworthiness standards are all good things. As compliance with regulations gets pushed to the forefront with these new mandates, this support will provide the groundwork for the trucking industry to continue making its already tremendous strides towards improving its overall safety performance and reducing the number of fatalities on our nation’s roadways.

While I have made no secret about the Truckload Carriers Assn.’s support of ELDs or the clearinghouse in various media inquiries, the driver notification system is yet another avenue in which fleets can be more informed on the performance of their drivers and making the driver/fleet relationship even more transparent than it was before. In fact, I wrote about this very issue two years ago and voiced the need for such a program to aid fleets in their ability to be informed.

The advent of CSA has emphasized a fleet’s desire and need to be informed in a timely manner, and the mandate of an employee notification system (ENS) that reports driver violations does exactly that. Rather than rely on a driver to report his own violations, the ENS will provide that data to the carrier through the federal government, much like some carriers already receive now through third-party vendors. As I stated two years ago, an ENS would not only eliminate the process of trusting a driver to self-report, but it would streamline that process by doing so.

As accountability and transparency continue to spread further into the industry with the enactment of MAP-21, states will use this long-term funding mechanism to plan for their future needs in addressing highway repairs and improving upon their infrastructure network. In the meantime, carriers can continue to take solace in knowing that this time, Congress got it right when mandating the safety needs of the industry.

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