Senate Commerce Committee Advances Safety Title of Highway Bill

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) unanimously advanced its “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021” in May.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee marked the second of four Senate authorizing panels to advance its portion of a highway bill on June 16, voting 25 to 3 in favor of the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) unanimously advanced its “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021” in May. The Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee has yet to propose its legislation on transit, and the Finance Committee has jurisdiction over funding the overall bill. 

Surface transportation reauthorization is advancing alongside infrastructure negotiations between President Biden and a group of 10 Senators on a broader package. Congress has until Sept. 30 to reauthorize existing surface transportation law.

Electric Vehicles:
Of importance to NATSO members, the Surface Transportation Investment Act would establish a Congressionally mandated electric vehicle working group to develop a series of reports regarding the development, adoption and integration of light, medium and heavy-duty electric vehicles into the transportation and energy systems of the United States.

The reports would aim to expand electric vehicle and charging infrastructure; maintain the global competitiveness of the United States in the electric vehicle and charging infrastructure markets; and provide clarity in regulations to improve national uniformity with respect to electric vehicles and ensure their sustainable integration into the electric grid.

The working group will consist of 25 members, including federal and non-government stakeholders from manufacturing, automotive and fuel distribution groups. If this electric vehicle task force remains in a final surface transportation reauthorization, NATSO would work to ensure that its members are represented.

Specifically, the working group must comprise an owner, operator, or manufacturer of electric vehicle charging equipment and representatives of the transportation fueling distribution industry, automotive dealing industry; a manufacturer of light-duty electric vehicles as well as medium- and heavy-duty vehicles; a manufacturer of electric vehicle batteries and a public utility regulator, among others.

The legislation tasks the working group with reporting to Congress on the barriers and opportunities to scaling up electric vehicle adoption throughout the United States. Specifically, the working group would be tasked with evaluating consumer behavior, charging infrastructure needs, manufacturing and battery costs, the adoption of electric vehicles for low- and moderate-income individuals and underserved communities, business models for charging personal electric vehicles outside the home, charging infrastructure permitting and regulatory issues; and the process by which governments collect a user fee for the contribution of electric vehicles to funding roadway improvements among others.

The working group also must evaluate state- and local-level policies, incentives, and zoning efforts; secondary markets and recycling for batteries; grid capacity and integration; energy storage; and specific regional or local issues that may not appear to apply throughout the United States, but may hamper nation wide adoption or coordination of electric vehicle as well as examples of successful public and private models and demonstration projects that encourage electric vehicle adoption and an analysis of current efforts to overcome the barriers.

Trucking Issues:
Among the amendments offered was Sen. Todd Young's (R-Ind.) DRIVE Safe Act (S.659), which would allow people under the age of 21 to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce via an apprenticeship program.

NATSO joined more than 120 organizations in supporting the amendment, which would help to address the nationwide shortage of truck drivers. 

Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia allow people as young as 18 to drive a commercial truck, however they are prohibited from crossing state lines.

The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow younger drivers who have met the requirements to obtain a CDL to engage in a two-step program of additional training that would then allow them to drive in interstate commerce. The training includes performance benchmarks that each candidate must achieve.

The program will require these drivers to complete at least 400 hours of additional training above the standard driver training requirements and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab with them. All trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, video event capture, and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour or below.

The American Trucking Associations issued a statement thanking Senators Young, Tester, Wicker and Cantwell for working to reach consensus on a DRIVE-Safe Act pilot program saying this “pro-safety, pro-jobs provision will strengthen the U.S. supply chain with a new and rigorous apprenticeship program, bolstering the trucking workforce and raising safety and training standards for its emerging members.”

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has long opposed the Drive-Safe Act, arguing that drivers need higher pay and better working conditions.

Section 3007: Seeks to encourage more women to enter the truck profession by mandating that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration establish a “Women of Trucking Advisory Board.” The Board, to be composed of 8 women, including representatives from small, mid and large trucking companies as well as an independent owner operator and a representative of a higher education or institutional trade school, will review and report on policies that provide education, training, mentorship, or outreach to women in the trucking industry; and recruit, retain, or advance women in the trucking industry. Women currently make up just 6.6 percent of the truck driver workforce. 

Truck Parking:
Section 1104
directs states to enhance their state freight plans by conducting an assessment of parking facilities and rest facilities for commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate transportation; including the volume of commercial motor vehicle traffic in the state; and “whether there exist any areas within the state with a shortage of adequate commercial motor vehicle parking facilities, including an analysis of the underlying causes of such a shortage.’’ 

The highway authorization law signed in 2012, MAP-21, allocated more funding for truck parking under a section titled “Jason’s Law” and required the U.S. Department of Transportation to assess the volume of truck parking in each state and develop a system of metrics to measure the adequacy of truck parking on a periodic basis.

NATSO in recent years has worked with many State Departments of Transportation, including Arizona, Nevada, California, Pennsylvania and Florida among others, as well as local governments, to develop recommendations for how states can address their truck parking concerns.

Human Trafficking:          
Section 3003
would make it easier for states to use motor carrier safety assistance program funds to help with the recognition, prevention, and reporting of human trafficking, including in a commercial motor vehicle; or by any occupant, including the operator, of a commercial motor vehicle.

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