As Congress last week held hearings that offer some insight into what a transportation reauthorization might look like, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., opened discussions on what will likely be included in the safety portion of the Senate's reauthorization bill. Lautenberg, who chairs the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, said he plans to introduce a bill soon.

Among other things, the bill will require more training for new carriers before issuance of a license and mandatory electronic onboard recorders for driver hours of service. It also will target carriers that "reincarnate" themselves under a different identity after having been sanctioned for safety violations, he said.

These initiatives already are under way in various stages of the rulemaking process at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Testifying on behalf of American Trucking Associations, Dan England, chairman of C.R. England, told the Senators that FMCSA needs to strengthen new-entrant requirements.

New entrants should have to complete on-line training on FMCSA regulations before they get a certificate, and they should undergo a safety audit within six months, rather than the 18 months that the rules now require.

England repeated ATA's longstanding support for a drug and alcohol test clearinghouse, which the agency is scheduled to propose next year.

He also called for giving carriers access to the Driver Safety Measurement System so they could screen driver applicants on the basis of their comparative safety performance.

Drug Testing

And England called on the senators to push DOT to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to develop standards for using hair analysis as a screening mechanism drug abuse, as well as urinalysis.

"Motor carriers are increasingly relying on hair testing as a means to identify unsafe drivers who make drug use part of their lifestyles," he said. "These carriers have found that hair is far superior to the only currently accepted specimen -- urine -- in its ability to reveal drug use."

In response to questions from Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., England said his company has found air testing to be much more reliable than urinalysis. The drug violation rate when using urinalysis is around 2%, compared to 9% for hair analysis, he said.

OOIDA and Detention

Joe Rajkovacz, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the key safety issue from the perspective of independent drivers is detention time.

"Detention is the 800-pound gorilla in safety," he said. "While truck drivers certainly should be held accountable for their actions, the same should be true for the stakeholders who often have more control over truckers' schedules and activities than the drivers themselves."

Rajkovacz supports a bill in the House that would require drivers to be paid if they are detained past a specified period. "It would be good to have a contract regarding detention time, because small carriers don't have marketplace power," he said.

But England, questioned on this point by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said such a requirement would constitute economic rather than safety regulation. His company pays drivers for their time, and these arrangements should remain between the company and the customer, he said.

He also contended that the detention problem can be addressed by mandatory electronic onboard recorders. With the recorders, DOT will be able to tell if a driver is not reporting his time properly, he said. "The electronic log is a tremendous tool in making that happen," he said.

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro told the panel that the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, a panel representing the interests of carriers, independents, labor, safety advocates and insurers, is looking into the detention issue.

No Give on Heavier Trucks

The hearing also offered an exchange between Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Snowe asked Gillan if there is any way to reconcile Maine's desire for limited use of heavier trucks on some of its Interstates with the safety advocacy community's opposition to the heavier vehicles.

Snowe cited the 2009-10 pilot program in Maine and Vermont that granted an exemption so 100,000-pound trucks could go on Interstates in order to keep them off of secondary roads. Twenty-seven states have exemptions, she said. "It is not fair to Maine to not have the exemption. What could we do to get to mutual agreement?"

Gillen had nothing to give on the point. "We may have to agree to disagree," she said.

Lautenberg backed Gillen, saying that the bigger trucks are not safe and he does not want to encourage them.