Senate Passes Transportation Bill with Strong Safety Agenda

On Tuesday, May 17, the Senate passed their version of HR 3, the surface transportation reauthorization bill by a vote of 89 to 11. This bill contains numerous highway and auto safety measures that were adopted with strong support from Republican and Democratic Senators. Although Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) has not reviewed the entire bill and every amendment adopted, here is a quick and short summary of some of the major safety wins and losses:

WINS:

All of the numerous highway and auto safety provisions included in the legislation adopted by the Senate Commerce Committee and added as the safety title to the overall transportation bill survived without any weakening or striking amendments offered.

All of the anticipated amendments increasing truck weights, particularly Sen. Snowe's (R-ME) amendment to increase Maine's truck weights to 100,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight on all interstates and the Maine turnpike were dropped in the face of fierce opposition by committee leaders and other Republican and Democratic Senators.

Several amendments providing special interest exemptions from the truck driver hours of service rule were not offered because of opposition by safety groups and other Senators.

An amendment offered by Sen. Allen (R-VA) and Sen. Ensign (R-NV) to weaken the primary seat belt incentive grant program failed on a vote of 14 to 86.

Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) was able to negotiate with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders to add his drunk driving bill addressing the issue of high BAC and repeat offenders (the High Risk Driver legislation) as an amendment to the final bill.

The Administration's attempt to add two hours of service amendments to the legislation, one to codify the current hours of service rule overturned by the courts and the other to gut the 20-year old law requiring the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to consider the health of truck drivers when issuing safety rules, was blocked and as a result, neither the Senate nor the House bill include these provisions.

LOSSES:

Sen. Lautenberg's (D-NJ) amendment to restore the federal motorcycle helmet law, repealed in 1995, was defeated on a vote of 28 to 69.

Sen. Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Warner (R-VA) were not permitted to offer their teen driving bill as an amendment to the legislation because it was ruled to be non-germane. However, as a result of their efforts, support and awareness for the measure has grown dramatically. Several Senators are now interested in co-sponsoring the bill and the legislation has garnered the support of the auto industry in addition to consumer, medical, health, safety and insurer groups.

An amendment sponsored by Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. DeWine (R-OH) to freeze the length of trucks on the National Highway System (118,000 miles of federal aid roads) was not offered because it was ruled to be non-germane.

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