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File Photo

An amendment offered by Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) would allow motor carriers that have not been rated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to meet safety-eligibility requirements spelled out by the “Interim Hiring Standard” within the proposed long-term highway bill, which the House is slated to debate this week.

While the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act (H.R. 3763) states that a motor carrier must have in effect a satisfactory safety rating from FMCSA, the Duncan amendment would insert the words “or be unrated” as well as adjust other language to clarify the intent of the hiring standard.

“The Duncan amendment clarifies that motor carriers who have not been prioritized for a compliance review by FMCSA due to their safe operations are equal in safety status to satisfactory rated carriers,” said the Transportation Intermediaries Association in a message to its membership. “This amendment is necessary to ensure that 447,665 unrated carriers, who are mostly small family-owned businesses, are not penalized by a flawed federal safety rating system.”

Last month, a letter signed by top executives of eight businesses and trade associations that together represent over 9,500 motor carriers, brokers and shippers was sent to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee opposing the wording of the Interim Hiring Standard.

At the time, Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs & communications for the Western States Trucking Association, told HDT the language in the bill “could cripple small-business truckers.”

WST was among the signatories of the letter as were Apex Capital Corp., the Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation, the Auto Haulers Association of America and the Air & Expedited Motor Carrier Association.

Rajkovacz explained that by “allowing a Satisfactory Safety Fitness Determination [issued] by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to be an affirmative defense in litigation, [this provision] would establish having a ‘Satisfactory’ as a necessary prerequisite in contracting for trucking services.”

While Rajkovacz conceded that the section is “intended to give shippers and brokers an affirmative defense in litigation over whether they hired an ‘unsafe’ motor carrier (based on CSA data, not Safety Fitness Determinations), many of us believe this language will actually harm small-businesses because approximately 90% are ‘unrated’-- since they have never had a federal Compliance Review and have not been issued a Safety Fitness Determination by FMCSA."

The Duncan amendment is among over 260 that have been proposed to the $325-billion transportation-funding bill, which includes $261 billion for roads and bridges.

Also in the amendment pile is the controversial proposal by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) to liberalize truck weights. The measure would allow individual states to increase the federal vehicle weight limit to 91,000 pounds for tractor-trailers equipped with a sixth axle.

According to Ribble, even though his amendment would add up to 11,000 pounds to a truck’s GCW limit, the resulting vehicle would operate more safely because its mandated sixth axle would provide it with “stopping power equal to or better than that of a five-axle truck.” The bill would also enable the Dept. of Transportation to require additional safety equipment on such heavier trucks.

Ribble noted that his proposal was written based on DOT safety and road wear data “to ensure that truck stopping times and pavement wear are as good or better than our current trucks.”