WASHINGTON – Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways on Thursday denounced legislation that could grant medium-sized trucks immunity from federal commercial safety regulations.
The amendment – proposed by Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and added to the House’s National Highway System bill – would allow companies with trucks weighing between 10,001 and 26,000 pounds to apply to be exempted from filing daily vehicle condition reports and documenting maintenance.
The companies could also apply for exemptions to requirements that they use drivers who are least 21 and who speak and understand English.
“This provision will put every American on the highway at risk,” Joan Claybrook, co-chairwoman of CRASH, said at a press conference.
“I believe this is the first highway bill that is going to kill more people than it’s going to save and that’s a crime,” Claybrook said.
But Robb MacKie, vice president of government relations for the American Bakers’ Association, said CRASH is over-reacting. He said the exemptions would just remove “outdated paperwork regulations.”
“I frankly think that what they’re trying to do is grasp every straw they can to try to defeat the larger issues of the national speed limit and the helmet law,” he said. Provisions repealing the federal speed limit and eliminating penalties states face if they do not have motorcycle helmet laws were also attached to the House highway bill.
MacKie said companies would still be required to have independent safety training programs for drivers.
“[Our companies] do a lot of this training, regardless of what the DOT regulations are,” MacKie said.
The American Bakers’ Association is working in cooperation with Federal Express, the Snack Food Association, Pepsi-Cola, Kraft Foods, U-Haul and several other commercial organizations to keep the truck language in the final version of the bill.
The Senate bill did not include the truck provision, so differences will have to be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee.
A Maryland transportation official said Thursday he was concerned about safety issues that may arise from the truck exemptions.
“Ensuring the safety of our motorists is our No. 1 priority and anything that would compromise the safety of the motoring public we would not support,” said Chuck Brown, a spokesman for the Maryland Highway Administration.
But Beatrice Beltran, legislative assistant for Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Baltimore, said, “While we are concerned about safety regulations, this amendment was a compromise that was reached by both sides and the provisions in this amendment were a lot better than the provisions in the bill” that was referred by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Some advocacy groups are not satisfied with the compromise.
David F. Snyder, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association, said medium-sized trucks are involved in 15,000 injury-producing accidents every year. “We estimate that the total cost to all of our society exceeds $500,000,” he said.
“And who pays this cost, beyond the human cost? This burden is borne first by the families of victims, then by employers, taxpayers and everyone who buys auto or health insurance,” Snyder said.
But members of the American Bakers’ Association, an organization that represents 90 percent of the wholesale baking industry, including Pepperidge Farm, Entenmann’s and Nabisco, remain hopeful that they will gain the right to govern their own safety standards. “We’re working with conferees to make sure that our language remains in the bill,” MacKie said. -30-