Late on Friday, Senator Cory Booker introduced The Truck Safety Act (S. 1739).
The bill would update Reagan-era insurance minimums; pay truckers for their time instead of their mileage; and, make commercial trucks use some of the same safety technology as passenger cars.
Fixing the minimum amount of insurance for trucks
The minimum amount of insurance for a commercial truck in 1980: $750,000
The minimum amount of insurance in 2015: $750,000
Booker’s proposed bill includes a long-overdue market correction: raise the insurance minimum to $1.5 million, and tie the insurance levels to inflation so we don’t have this problem again in another 30 years.
Trucking groups are fighting this fix to the insurance minimum: they shouldn’t be.
Liability and damages in a wrongful death caused by a trucking accident is far more than $750,000. Inadequate insurance puts all drivers, including truckers at risk, especially owner-operators who can’t cover the cost of a court judgment.
It’s also a serious safety issue.
One of the reasons for an insurance minimum is to set an entry-level safety standard for commercial truck drivers.
In short, if you can’t afford the minimum insurance coverage, then you can’t afford routine truck maintenance, brakes, tires and equipment.
That means your truck isn’t safe, and we don’t want it on our roads.
Fixing the pay-per-mile system
The trucking industry pays drivers by the mile, not by the hour. When truckers are stuck in traffic, waiting to unload, or taking their mandatory breaks, they are basically unpaid.
Paying truckers per mile puts an incentive on unsafe behaviors. A trucker may drive fatigued, skip breaks, or speed to make the miles lost from a traffic jam or a sudden storm.
Crash-avoidance braking is a standard safety feature on almost all new cars – but not on heavy tractor-trailers, which can weigh 30 times more than a car.
Requiring this technology in trucks could prevent thousands of serious truck crashes a year.
This bill would require rule-making for commercial motor vehicles to have systems such as forward collision warning systems and lane departure warning systems, and force consideration of speed limiting devices.
What’s Next for Truck Safety Act?
On the whole, Booker’s bill would truly advance commercial motor vehicle safety in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the bill is a long shot.
A competing bill, Senator John Thune’s S. 1732, proposes stripping resources from NHTSA, the federal trucking safety watchdog. This bill would let trucking carriers to hide their safety ratings, and allow teenagers to drive 80,000-pound commercial trucks on our highways.
GovTrack gives that bill an 11% chance of being enacted.