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What does the Infrastructure Bill hold for the trucking industry?
The Biden administration has laid significant emphasis on the trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. It was passed after much debate and discussions in the Senate on August 10, 2021, and will become effective from October 1, 2021.
Of the total funding, approximately $110 billion would be used for infrastructure work, while the rest will go to public transit, railroads, ports, airports, and broadband. Additionally, the Bill aims to boost the short and long-term economy by providing employment solutions in the post-pandemic job market. Essential transport infrastructure like rails, roads, and bridges across the U.S. will be maintained, rebuilt, and updated. One interesting note is that this will be done with the incorporation of technology. The expectation is that broadband improvements along with infrastructure updating can revitalize rural businesses and bring the smaller towns into the main network.
Trucking communities were eagerly anticipating this long-pending bill. Over time, they had made recommendations based on the direct impact of provisions on their workspaces, including compensation, equality, life safety, and job opportunities.
So, what’s in it finally for the trucking industry?
Of the numerous suggestions from the House on the trucking industry, some essential provisions were approved by the Senate, and a few critical ones were excluded in the Senate Bill.
Of the provisions, the ones specifically targeted at the trucking sector are:
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) Required:
The AEB, which was recommended in 2015 by the NTSB and meandering through the regulatory process, will now be enforced by the bill. In 2019, 5,005 large trucks were involved in a fatal crash, a 2% increase from 2018 and a 43% increase since 2010. It is believed that AEB with forward-collision warning systems could prevent more than 40% of semi rear-end crashes. During a rear crash occurrence, an AEB cuts speed by half, minimizing overall damage and injury. It connects to the vehicle’s sensors such as GPS, laser, radar, or even video data, and uses the information to activate the brakes in case the driver fails to do so. It also monitors traffic in front of the vehicle and assesses the possibility of a collision. The Bill enforcing AEB within two years is a step forward to saving lives and putting safety first on the highways.
Legislation till now only required trucks to have rear trailer underride guards. The Bill calls for strengthening the rear underride followed by implementation of side and front underride guards on trailers, semi-trucks, and single trucks. There is also a proposal for annual inspections of underrides.
Provisions for trucking safety in the Infrastructure Bill cover Crash Causation, Leasing, and Compensation
Truck Leasing Task Force:
The new legislation directs the Department of Transport with the Labor Department to set up a Truck Leasing task force that will examine the truck leasing arrangements between motor carriers and operators, agreements, and terms of lease-purchase. It will study issues like net driver compensation, including drayage drivers, vehicle maintenance, safe operations, and equitable opportunity agreements. Commercial vehicle drivers will be assisted by this study to understand the impacts of leasing agreements, thus helping those drivers trapped in predatory agreements, and prevent coercion and safety impacts.
Driver Compensation study:
The Bill directs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to work with the Transport Research Board on methods of driver compensation for safety and driver retention, including hourly pay, pay for detention time, and other methods used in the industry. The aim is to ensure fair compensation across the industry and enable a better lifestyle through a well-paying career in trucking for
The three pilot programs hailed as strategic and progressive by the industry are:
- Women in Trucking – This legislature aims to promote this concept because women make up 47% of the American workforce and are underrepresented to a mere 27% across the transportation industry while only 6.6% specifically are truck drivers. One fact mentioned in the Bill is that women are 20% less likely to be involved in a crash than their male counterparts. The pursuit and retention of women in this career should be encouraged through programs that support recruitment, driver training, and mentorship. That will open up avenues for equal opportunity for women in a male-dominated workforce.
- Apprenticeship pilot program – this provision targets young individuals below 21 years of age, holding a commercial driving license. Employers are allowed to conduct a 120-hours apprenticeship program for young drivers structured as per the guidance in the legislature. The apprentices will be accompanied in the passenger seat by an experienced driver, trucks driven by them will have automated or automatic transmission, be equipped with active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture systems, and a travel speed of 65mph. The legislation intends to allow drivers aged 18-21 to haul interstate commerce. Currently, drivers under 21 can only haul freight in the state in which they are registered.
- Vehicle per-mile user fee pilot program– The goal of this pilot program is to test the design, acceptance, implementation, and financial sustainability of a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee. That will address the need for additional revenue for surface transportation infrastructure and provide recommendations for the implementation of a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee in three years. The fee, though not yet defined, the highest rate will probably be paid by drivers of heavy trucks. Volunteer drivers would have their miles tracked with GPS and onboard data devices and apps for a certain period.
Conversely, these recommended provisions for Trucking absent from the Senate bill remained a sore point:
– Increasing truck insurance liability from $750,000 to $2 million
– A review of or overhaul of the HOS regulations in place since September 2020
– Provision for screening requirements for drivers with obstructive sleep apnea
– A key sticking point is the dwindling funding for truck parking. Drivers are now are compelled to drive very far to find appropriate parking or forced to be content with unsafe or inadequate parking locations.
The Infrastructure Bill brings cheer in some respects and discord in others. The apprentice programs for women in trucking and young drivers were hailed as pro-trucking and meets the need for equality and job creations across sections of society. In an age when all trucking fleets are struggling to add drivers to augment their delivery capacity, this could help ease the burden. The disparity of mile user fees between commercial and passenger vehicles, privacy concerns, and additional cost burdens have the truckers viewing the vehicle mileage pilot with skepticism and discontent.
Meanwhile, the trucking industry lies in wait to witness the positive and negative unfolding of the Bill on its daily operations!