In late May, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed several bills onto the House floor in efforts to upgrade the supply chain and prevent future supply disruptions. Five of those bills directly impact the trucking industry. While most easily passed Committee vote, some stakeholders have hesitancy regarding others.
Truck parking remains among the top concerns of drivers and the industry. HR2367, the “Truck Parking Improvement Act,” is intended to address the issue head-on. Introduced by Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL), the bill provides for the construction of commercial motor vehicle parking at both existing and new parking areas. Perhaps more importantly, it requires these parking spaces be accessible to all commercial motor vehicles at no cost.
“I grew up in a family trucking business,” Bost said. “I understand how difficult, and oftentimes dangerous, it can be when America’s truckers are forced to park in an unsafe location.”
Bost noted that expanding parking for truckers not only makes the roads safer for commuters and other vehicles, but it also improves the efficiency of the supply chain.
“This is a matter of public safety,” he added.
The bill, which establishes a $755 million grant program for truck parking expansion, passed out of committee on a 60-4 vote.
Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) sponsored HR3013, “The Licensing Individual Commercial Exam-takers Now Safely and Efficiently (LICENSE) Act of 2023.”
This bill is intended to reduce regulatory restrictions on CDL licensing by making permanent two waivers issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The waivers, which allow CDL examiners to provide both the skills and knowledge portions of the tests and to offer the skills test no matter where the candidate received training,
will improve the efficiency of the testing process, according to supporters.
“Trucking workforce shortages continue to be a persistent challenge for small businesses throughout America, and the downstream effects are harming working families,” LaHood said, noting that the legislation would help streamline the process of obtaining a CDL and eliminate unnecessary “red tape.”
Additional bills passed by the committee were related to weight increases for specific products that motor carriers haul on a regular basis, and for alternative-fuel vehicles.
HR3318, sponsored by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) establishes a 10% axle weight variance for dry bulk products, provided there is no increase in the overall federal gross vehicle weight (GVW) limit. Crawford’s bill addresses the fact that dry bulk cargo — including grains, aggregates, plastic pellets, etc. — tend to shift during transportation. The result is a redistribution in the truck’s weight. The bill provides leeway for trucks hauling such materials, avoiding the need to reduce load weight to account for the shifting.
“Commodities such as flour or rice have the tendency to shift when the driver comes to a stop, even when packaged properly,” Crawford said, adding that the current law doesn’t take the uncontrollable movement of such freight into account.
“This legislation is a commonsense solution for truckers transporting dry bulk by giving more flexibility for weight per axle requirements,” he said.
HR2948, the “Carrying Automobiles Responsibly and Safely (CARS) Act,” is sponsored by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX). The bill, which passed through committee on a 30-29 vote, provides for efficiency in the supply chain by extending the ability of automobile transporters to continue carrying the number of vehicles currently allowed. The bill seeks to take into account the increasing weight of newer vehicles. Overall, under the bill, a 10% weight increase will be allowed for specific types of automobile transporters.
“Car haul carriers across the nation have been backed into a corner by the Biden administration’s supply chain crisis,” Gooden said following a vote that passed along party lines.
“The CARS Act would ensure vehicle transportation does not fall behind by restoring lost load capacity to transport carriers that are witnessing a surge in heavier cars on the market,” he said.
Gooden says the bill is a simple solution to an industrywide problem, noting that “countless stakeholders” worked with him on the legislation in the interest of maintaining the supply chain.
Finally, HR3447, sponsored by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) received bipartisan support. The bill provides a 2,000-pound weight exemption for hydrogen-powered vehicles, allowing them the same exemption as those powered by natural gas and batteries. The intent of the bill is to allow fleets investing in alternative fuel trucks greater flexibility and the opportunity to make the selection of power that is right for their company. By doing so, supporters hope, motor carriers and drivers will be more accepting of vehicles fueled by alternative power sources. The measure was passed on to the House floor by a 55-5 vote.
While all the bills passed through committee have merit among stakeholders, one trucking industry insider stops short of endorsing the full slate of legislation.
“Obviously, the inclusion of funding to create safe and secure parking is a win for the industry and (our organization,” said David Heller, senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA).
However, Heller was less enthusiastic about weight variances.
“We remain concerned over the provisions that would allow for weight increases over 80,000 pounds,” he said. “As an association, we will continue to advocate for supply chain solutions that will benefit the truckload segment of the industry and voice our opposition to weight increases that could jeopardize safety on our highways.”
Heller went on to note that the trucking industry supports the nation through its commitment to delivering freight and providing jobs to Americans. But, he added, “TCA will urge Congress to find freight productivity solutions that will encourage everyone to safely deliver to the nation.”
Floor debate on the various bills is pending at the time of this writing.
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.