In 2020, lawmakers in the House of Representatives approved a legislative change that more than doubled the minimum insurance requirements for commercial vehicles by a vote of 37 to 27. This decision involved the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approving an amendment to the INVEST Act that was introduced by an Illinois representative. This article considers the nature of this amendment, which will effectively increase current insurance liability requirements for commercial vehicle operators from $750,000 to $2 million.
The Rationale Behind the Legislation
Despite decades of inflation, the minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers have not been changed. Many people criticized previous insurance limits as inadequate and potentially forcing victims to face substantial costs following life-changing accidents. This regulation gradually increases the minimum insurance requirements to more adequately match inflation.
Negative Response to the Regulation
While the legislation has received substantial support, it has also drawn negative responses. Members of the trucking industry have expressed the perspective that the regulation could force smaller carriers and owner-operators to shut down as a result of increased costs. The President and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has also expressed concerns that the amendment will have no impact on improving safety on the country’s highways and that the measure will instead destroy small trucking businesses throughout the country.
Interestingly, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association initially supported several regulations in the House’s version of the reauthorization of the FAST Act, which was then called the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (INVEST Act). This five-year $494 billion surface transportation bill initially included provisions that increased funding for highway construction and truck parking projects as well as limited excessive detention time. Due to the inclusion of a provision designed to increase insurance coverage, however, the group now opposes the measure.
The INVEST Act, however, has not reached the ends of its legislative path. Instead, the act must now pass in both the House and Senate before the regulation becomes effective.
Other Trucking Legislation
Besides this regulation, the Biden Administration as well as Congress have various other opportunities to change current regulations for the trucking industry. Analyzing what the Obama and Trump administrations left unresolved is just one of the ways to consider what potential changes might occur. The Biden Administration has already stopped some of the trucking proposals by the Department of Transportation from 2020, including a program allowing drivers to pause their on-duty driving periods. Other Democratic-initiated ideas could end up part of an infrastructure bill that Democrats are working toward now.
Besides increased insurance, here some of the other changes that are in the works for the trucking industry in 2021and 2022:
- Automatic emergency braking. Obama-era regulations mandated that vehicle manufacturers install automatic emergency braking on all new vehicles by 2022. This requirement could be expanded under President Biden to new commercial vehicles as well.
- Driver classification rules. The Department of Labor under Trump proposed a regulation that clarifies the difference between an employee and an independent contractor. While this regulation has since been placed on hold, Democrats have raised the argument that this regulation would make it easier for employers to treat their workers as contractors instead of employees deserving of benefits. Such labeling would prove advantageous to trucking companies because categorizing truck drivers as independent contractors would then enable the employer to avoid paying taxes and other requisites associated with employees but not with independent contractors.
- Hours of service. A new hours of service regulation went into effect in September 2020 but is likely to remain for some time. The change in hours of service increased the short-haul exception to 150 air miles and a 14-hour work shift as well as expanded the adverse driving conditions exception by two hours. Additionally, the regulation redefined the 30-minute break requirement and modified the sleeper berth exception to allow drivers to combine at least seven hours of sleep with time off-duty. Later, in December 2020, Congress directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to review how these new regulations would impact highway safety in comparison to older rules. The Biden administration will likely perform additional analysis of the potential impact of these new regulations.
- Sleep apnea screening. An Obama-era proposed regulation would have required overweight drivers to receive screening for sleep apnea, which some studies have found to impact approximately a third of commercial drivers. The Trump administration, however, stopped attempting to pass this regulation. The Biden administration will likely end up considering a similar measure.
- Speed limits. The Trump administration paused Obama-administration-led proposals to require speed limiters be placed on larger trucks. Now that Democrats lead again, this regulation is expected to be part of the 2021 proposal or return as a proposed rule from the Biden administration’s Department of Transportation.
- Trailer underride side guards. The Biden administration’s Department of Transportation will likely give serious consideration to strengthening rear-underride guards for tractor-trailers. The Department of Transportation might also decide to add requirements for guards on the sides of trailers to further reduce the risk of underride accidents. While such measures keep motorists safer, groups with opposing interests in the matter have debated for years whether such measures are necessary. A 2019 proposal for legislation adding these guards resulted in resistance from trucking groups who argued that such measures would result in significant additional costs.
- Under 21 drivers pilot. The American Trucking Association supported pilot program will allow people under the age of 21 the opportunity to operate commercial motor vehicles. This program has been under review since the beginning of the Biden administration. Currently, younger commercial drivers are permitted to work in intrastate operations. The possibility that younger drivers can join the interstate commerce workforce, however, must wait until the pilot program is completed and comes under review.
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