Lawmakers responsible for funding agencies within the executive branch publish documents – called congressional reports – that accompany the funding legislation to give agencies a sense of where some in Congress stand on issues that do not make it into the bill.
In the case of the fiscal year 2022 budget for the Department of Transportation, the House Appropriations Committee recently provided its list of recommendations that it wants DOT to tackle next year. While DOT and its modal agencies are under no obligation to actually act on them, they’re a signal for potential legislative proposals in the coming year.
What does the committee want DOT’s agencies to act on for trucking? The following are highlights.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Hours of service
The Appropriations Committee said it “remains concerned” about HOS rules that went into effect on Sept. 29 last year and their effect on safety and labor because the rules extend driving time and distance while reducing driver rest time.
The committee pointed out that last year’s budget directed FMCSA to analyze the new regulations by comparing safety data before and after and then report the analysis in the FY2022 budget request – but failed to do so.
“The committee repeats such direction for fiscal year 2022 and directs FMCSA to make the information publicly available and to post the analysis on the agency’s website concurrently with the posting of the fiscal year budget request for fiscal year 2023,” the committee stated.
Driver safety-fitness rulemaking
Within 90 days of the 2022 budget enactment, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg is to initiate a rulemaking outlining procedures to determine whether an owner or operator is fit to safely drive a truck. At a minimum, the procedures are to include specific requirements with which an owner or operator must comply to demonstrate safety fitness, along with a methodology and specific time frames to be used by DOT to determine whether an owner or operator is fit.
Large-truck crash study
The committee stated that it “remains alarmed” by truck safety trends, noting that injuries to people involved in large-truck crashes in 2019 increased more than 5%, while deaths increased 36% since 2010. Last year’s appropriations bill included $30 million for a truck-crash study, and the committee wants FMCSA to brief both the House and Senate appropriations committees on the progress of the study within 90 days of enactment of the FY2022 budget bill.
FMCSA has IT problems that negatively affect the safety of the trucking industry, the committee warned. “The legacy of layered, antiquated systems remains a stumbling block” for the agency, it noted, and said $65 million appropriated by the committee should be used for IT management. FMCSA is also directed to provide quarterly briefings to the House and Senate on the agency’s progress toward streamlining its IT management system.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Truck underride guards
A proposed rulemaking by NHTSA in 2015 to update truck rear impact guard requirements cited 362 annual fatalities associated with light-vehicle crashes into the rear of trucks, the committee stated. It directs NHTSA to work with researchers, engineers, safety advocates and the trucking industry “to facilitate the deployment and adoption of rear and side underride protection devices.” It also encourages DOT to form an advisory committee on truck underrides to support this work.
Automatic emergency braking (AEB)
The committee emphasized that safety benefits of AEBs on large trucks are well documented and that mandating their installation “would significantly reduce” the more than 5,000 truck-crash-related fatalities each year. It also contends that the costs to truckers would not be large, citing a September 2018 study by NHTSA that found that the incremental cost to a truck driver of automatic emergency brakes would be less than $350.
It directed NHTSA to “move with all deliberate speed” in finalizing an AEB rule that the agency said it plans to propose this year.
Autonomous vehicle (AV) testing/advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)
The committee stated that it’s concerned AV technology will bring about “significant changes” but that the country is not prepared for them – particularly challenges related to weather conditions like rain fog, and low sun angles. It encourages NHTSA to use AV proving grounds or partner with existing test and research facilities to further develop AV technology that can operate in all weather conditions. Regarding ADAS – technology that is less “autonomous” than AV – the committee said it’s concerned with a lack of minimum performance standards, which is causing confusion from consumers about ADAS benefits and constraints.
It directs NHTSA to develop minimum performance standards for both AV and ADAS “including, but not limited to, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warnings and traffic signal recognition.”
Federal Highway Administration
Truck size and weight
Last year the committee directed DOT to develop a plan – which the committee has not yet received – for researching how different truck configurations affect driver safety, bridge deterioration and the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The results of such research should be considered, according to the committee, before DOT or Congress establishes changes to federal truck size and weight regulations. The committee wants to be briefed on its progress for implementing the plan within 30 days of enacting the 2022 budget bill.
Virginia highway capacity
While the U.S. Interstate Highway System has many major truck corridors susceptible to congestion and delays, I-81 in Virginia poses particular challenges for the East Coast freight network. When one lane of this two-lane (each direction) corridor is blocked due to a crash, “there is significant reduction in capacity,” the committee asserted. In addition to the lack of capacity, factors that contribute to long crash-clearance times include the rolling terrain, lack of reliable detour routes and the “constrained configuration” of the route, it stated.
Because travel is anticipated to continue to increase – with truck traffic growing at a faster pace than passenger vehicle traffic – the committee “encourages FHWA to work with state and local stakeholders to address surface conditions and other improvements to alleviate incident-related delays and backups.”