The Winds of Regulatory Change Are Near
Ahh yes….it takes time, but our government is hard at work making changes that will impact the trucking industry.
As you probably know, Congress has been inching toward passage of a so-called surface transportation reauthorization bill — often referred to simply as a “highway bill,” which re-ups spending on U.S. roadways, bridges, and other infrastructure critical to surface transportation.
Highway bills only come around every so often (for example, the current funding law, the FAST Act, was passed in 2015), so lawmakers leverage these pieces of legislation as vehicles to implement regulatory initiatives and other policy reforms, in addition to setting aside funding for roads and bridges.
The House last month passed its version of a FAST Act-successor, the INVEST in America Act, and tucked into the sweeping $715 billion highway funding package are a few key reforms that will directly impact motor carriers’ operations — and reforms that highlight the importance and efficiency gains of utilizing weigh station bypass and e-Inspection technology. The Senate is separately working on its own highway bill, simply dubbed (as of now) the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021.
There are still miles of road ahead for Congress to enact a new highway funding law this year, including the Senate passing its proposed legislation and (likely the biggest hurdle) House and Senate lawmakers reconciling their two versions before sending them back to their respective chambers for passage again.
After those steps, should they take place, the final bill will be sent to President Biden to sign it into law.
Whether sooner or later, the reforms in the House and Senate proposals could come to pass, and they should be on everyone’s radar. Here’s a look at a few of the proposed policy revisions that fleets should be aware of and prepared to manage:
A steep hike in liability insurance coverage — and regular hikes thereafter
A chief proposed reform that has caught headlines for nearly a decade seems closer than ever to making the final cut — a push to increase the minimum required liability insurance coverage for motor carriers from $750,000 to $2 million initially, and then for the FMCSA (the branch of the U.S. DOT responsible for implementing this policy change) to re-evaluate liability minimums every five years and adjust them based on inflation.
The current $750,000 minimum has been static since 1986. Proponents of the change argue that the minimum hasn’t kept up in its ability to fund post-crash claims or climbing costs of medical expenses in such instances. Opponents of the hike, however, say that the current $750,000 minimum covers claims in upwards of 99% of truck crashes.
Should this reform pass and the new minimum be enacted, it likely will exacerbate the climbing costs of insurance premiums motor carriers have experienced in recent years. For example, the American Transportation Research Institute last year said in its annual Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry report that carriers’ insurance rates have climbed on average 18.3% over the past five years on a per-mile cost basis.
So, with a potential steep hike in premiums looming, carriers should start concentrating now on shoring up their safety practices and making sure their safety scores, like those in the Compliance, Safety, Accountability system and its SMS BASIC ratings, are as strong as possible. These precautions can help carriers keep their insurance costs in check.
We feel FMCSA and its state partners will increasingly turn to electronic inspection systems like Drivewyze’s e-Inspection as a means to make the inspection process quicker and more efficient. With e-Inspection in place, FMCSA and state enforcers can also ramp-up the total number of inspections they perform and ensure that carriers can actually earn a safety rating. For smaller carriers, in particular, this has been an issue, as no inspection data means no CSA scores. Most carriers, for example, lack enough data to produce a rating in even one CSA BASIC.
Earning a positive safety rating can allow small carriers, those with whom climbing insurance costs have the most outsized effect, to work with their insurers on keeping their premiums from soaring, even when the hike in liability minimums takes effect.
Plus, having a strong safety score allows fleets that utilize Drivewyze PreClear weigh station bypass to have up to a 98% bypass rate — saving time, money, and headaches at the scales.
To learn how to utilize Drivewyze’s e-Inspections in states where it’s up and running, see this blog post from last month.
New limits on personal conveyance, and ELDs as data tools
Within federal HOS regulations, personal conveyance refers to a driver using their truck as a personal vehicle, such as driving home from a terminal after being relieved of duty or traveling to a restaurant or lodging while on the road. Personal conveyance time is not counted against drivers’ daily and weekly HOS limits.
But, that may change. The House’s INVEST in America Act would set time and mileage limits on the use of personal conveyance, which could hamper flexibility afforded by the personal conveyance privilege.
What’s more, the bill calls for greater use of HOS data from electronic logging devices in research of highway safety and regulatory issues.
Both of these initiatives again put a spotlight on the importance of up-and-coming e-Inspections, which integrates with our ELD partners to electronically transmit HOS data to roadside inspectors ahead of a weigh station. HOS logs and other ELD information then pre-populate an inspection officers’ report, dramatically reducing inspection times and removing frustrations surrounding roadside data transfers — especially when personal conveyance questions are at issue.
Likewise, the ability for officers to perform more inspections in far less time allows greater access to ELD data for research purposes.
Money dedicated for truck parking
Lastly, the INVEST in America act allocates some $1 billion — $250 million annually from 2023 through 2026 — to build truck parking capacity around the country. This a key point of distinction between the two chambers’ bills, since the Senate version only allocates about half that amount.
However, in both bills, the money is explicitly granted to add truck parking lots adjacent to existing private truck stops. States would apply for grants to build truck parking along their highways, and grant recipients are allowed to work with private partners in building out this infrastructure. Parking within these new lots must remain free — aka, entities are barred from charging for parking constructed with these grant funds.
Finding available spots is also becoming easier. As part of our Safety+ package, Drivewyze provides dynamic alerts of available truck parking capacity in nine states, with more to come. As new facilities are built out, we’ll continue to look at expanding this service alongside the expansion of truck parking capacity.
Whew. That’s a lot of info to digest. We will keep you posted on developments. It takes time for laws to be enacted. We will see what sticks, and what doesn’t.