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Windsor testifies at House committee hearing

A recommendation to allow states more flexibility in determining truck sizes and weights was one of several proposals made to a House of Representatives committee July 9 by Barbara Windsor, chief executive officer of Hahn Transportation Inc, New Market, Maryland.

"There is no doubt that continuing or further restricting current federal size and weight limits will cost lives," Windsor testified. "While it would not make sense from a safety or economic standpoint to allow larger or heavier trucks to operate on every highway or in every state, Congress cannot continue to ignore the growing body of evidence that supports the fact that opportunities to prevent accidents through size and weight reform are available. Those states that identify these opportunities should be allowed to take advantage of them."

Windsor testified on behalf of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) before the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The meeting was scheduled in a series of reauthorization hearings on the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

Other subjects discussed include hours-of-service (HOS) proposals, driver records, container transportation, and Mexico-domiciled carriers operating in the United States.

Addressing HOS regulations, she noted the ATA recommends that Congress prohibit an HOS rule that would eliminate or curtail any current HOS exemption, unless DOT determines that the exemption would not be in the public interest, and is having an adverse impact on highway safety. The recommendation also calls for DOT to issue a report to Congress that documents and explains the findings.

The exemptions include:

&#8226A driver who encounters driving conditions, such as snow, sleet, ice, or unusual road and traffic conditions, and cannot complete the run within the allowable 10-hour driving period may drive for not more than two additional hours to complete the run or reach a place of safety.

&#8226In an emergency, a driver may complete the run without being in violation of the regulations, if such run could have been completed absent the emergency.

&#8226Any driver-salesperson whose total driving time does not exceed 40 hours in any period of seven consecutive days may drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) after having been on duty 60 hours in seven consecutive days, or 70 hours in eight consecutive days.

&#8226Drivers engaged in oilfield operations may end any period of eight consecutive days with the beginning of any off-duty period of 24 or more successive hours.

&#8226A driver is exempt from preparing a record of duty status, if the driver operates within a 100 air-mile radius of the normal work-reporting location; returns to the work-reporting location and goes off-duty within 12 consecutive hours; takes at least eight consecutive hours off duty to separate each 12 hours on duty; does not exceed 10 hours maximum driving time following eight consecutive hours off duty; and if the motor carrier maintains a time record showing specific information. Windsor pointed out that ATA believes that the air mile radius limitation is unnecessary and should be eliminated.

&#8226Other exemptions include drivers using sleeper berths. Drivers are currently allowed to accumulate the required eight consecutive hours off duty in two separate periods totaling eight hours. Neither period may be less than two hours. In addition, all time in a travel status may be counted as off-duty time if the driver is afforded eight consecutive hours off-duty when arriving at a destination.

Rules applying to carrier responsibility for reviewing driver records was another subject addressed. "Truck drivers are required by federal regulation to communicate traffic conviction information to their employers within 30 days of any conviction, and within one business day of any license suspension or loss of privilege action," Windsor testified. "Unfortunately, these driver-based, self-reporting requirements are often not followed by truck drivers because of the employment consequences that may ensue. Thus, trucking companies often do not learn of serious convictions, or loss of privilege actions, for many months after they occur, or sometimes not until the next annual check is done."

ATA recommends that Congress direct and fund a feasibility study to determine if an employee-pull-notice (EPN) program, similar to those used in California and Virginia, would be effective nationwide. The programs enroll carriers and assign a requester code that is added to their employees' commercial driver license (CDL) records. When a CDL record is updated to include violations, a check is made electronically to determine if a pull-notice-requester code is on file. If the violation is one that is required to be reported under the EPN program, a CDL record is generated and mailed to the employer.

Windsor also noted that ATA recommends that Congress direct DOT to equitably apply and enforce laws designed to ensure the safe condition of intermodal chassis and trailers. "Enforcement needs to be redirected from the truckers, who are powerless to include interchanged intermodal equipment in their periodic maintenance programs, and placed on the parties who decide every day whether to repair a chassis or trailer, or hand it off to a truck driver without the benefit of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)-mandated maintenance," she testified.

Discussing Mexico-based carrier operations in the United States, she said, "It is important to remember that NAFTA's trucking provisions require all foreign motor carriers operating in the United States to comply with all US safety standards and regulations. Therefore, only Mexican carriers that demonstrate that they meet US standards through an extensive application process administered by FMCSA will be given US operating authority. ATA fully supports rigorous enforcement of all US standards for all carriers, both US and foreign, operating in this country."

Another subject that has gained recent attention is related to driver rest areas. ATA recommends that the construction, improvement, and expansion of safety rest areas, as well as access to the facilities should, at a minimum, be eligible under all major funding categories of the federal aid highway program. Additionally, funding for rest areas should be set aside under a new discretionary program, with preference given to projects that utilize innovative solutions for addressing the trucking industry’s safe parking needs. Research also is needed to develop alternatives to truck idling at rest areas and truck stops.

Other topics discussed during the hearing included a need for a preliminary report from an on-going DOT study on the causes of trucking accidents; emphasis on enforcing speed limits and the use of seat belts; adoption of an outreach program to educate and change the behavior of all drivers; funding allocation for a National Highway Watch program; funding for highway infrastructure improvement; and establishment and funding for a research program to determine the appropriate method for incorporating truck reliability performance standards into future Federal Motor Vehicle Standards.

ATA recommends that Congress direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to continue its research on new heavy truck braking and vehicle stability enhancement technologies, specifically disc brakes and electronic brake and stability control systems

Finally, ATA recommends that Congress require DOT to establish a motor carrier safety advisory committee and extend the authorizing period by a minimum of five years. Section 105 of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 authorized the Secretary of Transportation to establish a commercial motor vehicle safety advisory committee to provide advice and recommendations on a wide range of motor carrier safety issues. The advisory committee was to remain in effect until September 30, 2003.

"As of this date, more than two and one half years after passage of the Act, the DOT has taken no official action to establish an advisory committee," Windsor said. "ATA finds this fact very troubling. Establishment of the committee would bring together various industry segments, law enforcement, advocacy groups, manufacturers, and government officials to discuss the most pressing motor carrier safety issues."

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