Highway bill: The pathway to reforming approach to regulating industry

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Truckers face regulations today that are still based on 1930s rationale – as well as plenty of regs that have been added over the years and never revisited.

The current agency that regulates trucking, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, inherited a lot of those regulations and has added a fair amount of its own along the way since 2000.

Generally, once the regulations are on the books, there’s no revisiting of the regs. One notable exception is the hours-of-service regulations; they were initially retooled in 2003, which didn’t stick. Litigation and two more revisions to the regulations have occurred since then.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is calling for a top-down review of current regulations, asking for an evaluation of actual relationship to crash risk. In addition to reviewing the current regulations, the Association is also seeking to revamp how the agency arrives at new regulations and calling for independent review of agency actions and procedures.

In order to make that happen – and what may appear to be ironic to those not familiar with how to make things happen in Washington, D.C. – is for Congress to pass another highway bill and get it signed into law instead of extending the status quo under the current highway funding law.

Highway bills serve multiple purposes. Once signed into law, they fund the Department of Transportation and its agencies that regulate various aspects of transportation. This includes everything from highway construction and design to the manufacturing of vehicles to the truckers who operate on the roads daily.

There are many more things that the highway bill does (like create jobs), but two objectives of the bill will be the pathway to passing any sort of FMCSA reform efforts. The first is that Congress can call for the independent review of current regulations. Congress can also set new procedures for FMCSA to follow in arriving at new regulations.

Highway bills that are signed into law come with an expiration date. The current program – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21 – expires on Sept. 30 of this year. Congress has two options, pass a new highway bill before it expires or extend MAP-21 and maintain the status quo.

Extensions do happen. The previous program SAFETEA-LU, which was signed into law in 2005, expired in 2009. Congress kept that program in place through a series of extensions until MAP-21 was signed into law on July 6, 2012.

Hoping to avoid another lengthy extension of the current transportation law, OOIDA is pressing Congress to get to work on a new highway bill and, in that bill, to get to work on revamping how FMCSA currently approaches regulation of the industry.

“For highway bill after highway bill, truckers have been on the defensive against new rules, new regulations, new mandates,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley. “This is an opportunity for us to be on the offensive pushing for stuff we want, for things we like. We’re wanting to move the ball forward and in the right direction.” LL