As the budgeting process for the Department of Transportation unfolds, it is clear that Congress will support a significantly higher investment in truck safety.
Headlines about the DOT appropriations process have been dominated by the Senate’s attempt to squelch the hours-of-service rules by cutting off funds for the rulemaking. But both the Senate and House appropriations bills contain big funding increases for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The appropriations process still has a long way to go. The bills have to be reconciled in a House-Senate conference, and then the final bill has to survive the budget end-game this fall. But excepting the Senate’s hours of service provision — admittedly a significant exception — the bills are similar and reflect a shared commitment to improving truck safety.
Both generally support DOT’s budget request for the new truck and bus safety agency. DOT had asked for $279 million for fiscal year 2001, which begins in October, a 54% increase over this year’s safety program. The House bill, much of which was adopted by the Senate, gives the safety agency about 3% less than it wanted — $269 million.
Details of the bills show where Congress wants the safety agency to place its emphasis.
Both sides agree on the biggest single piece of the increase — $72 million — for safety grants to the states. The money would be used for more compliance reviews and roadside inspections, to put the brakes on traffic violators and to toughen enforcement of the commercial driver’s license program. Also, it would go to improving the agency’s information system.
Both bills also support more personnel for safety investigations. The Senate specifically says it wants the investigators to target truckers with poor compliance records or high accident rates, and that this effort should be full-time and continuous.
The bills agree with the safety agency’s request for more inspectors for the Mexican border, although the Senate cautioned that it wants “an appropriate balance” between border inspections and compliance reviews of unsafe fleets.
And both call for a big increase in research, the Senate specifying an additional amount to support DOT’s efforts to teach car drivers how to safely share the road with trucks.