Senate Commerce Committee Reports Bus Safety Bill

Senate Commerce Committee Reports Bus Safety Bill

Today, the Senate Commerce Committee reported out Senate Bill S. 554, the “Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009”. A provision pre-empting state or local laws with respect to standards for seat belts contained in earlier drafts of the bill was deleted. There was concern that this pre-emption provision could be interpreted to extend beyond seat-belt standards and pre-empt more stringent state and local standards affecting other areas of bus safety.

Today’s action does not necessarily signal that this bill will be considered by the full Senate any time soon. Senator Lautenberg, who chairs the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the full Commerce Committee, intends to pursue a broader commercial motor vehicle safety agenda including trucks early next year that is tied to the reauthorization process. A specific issue that Senator Lautenberg said he intends to pursue in this process is to mandate the use of EOBR’s on both buses and trucks. S. 554 as reported out today mandated EOBR’s on buses only. CVSA will be meeting with the Subcommittee staff to recommend necessary technical considerations as part of the EOBR rulemaking process that would include such issues as interoperability, security, tampering, uniformity, standard interface for law enforcement, and proper certification of EOBR devices.

CVSA has already talked to Committee staff on the bill with respect to increased resources states would need to implement Section 6, New Entrants; Section 8, Safety Reviews; and Section 13, Safety Inspection Programs. They have indicated their intent to address these issues through increased MCSAP funding. We will also be discussing the issue of certification of third party contractors (safety data providers) for safety audit purposes.

SAFETEA-LU to Be Extended to February 28, 2010

A two month extension of the current SAFETEA-LU was included in the Defense Appropriations bill that passed the House yesterday and is expected to clear the Senate by December 23rd.

While the House yesterday narrowly passed a second jobs stimulus bill that included a $37 billion in transportation infrastructure funding as well as a one year extension of SAFETEA-LU to September 30, 2010, the Senate will not have time to take action on such a measure until after the first of the year. So this accounts for the interim two month extension included in the Defense Appropriations bill. In terms of a more definitive extension, the Senate is reportedly talking about a one year extension as well. This would move reauthorization to September 30, 2010 just two months before the Congressional elections which does not appear to be the best time for consideration of six year highway bill. Then comes 2011 and a new Congress and who knows what the make-up of the new Congress may be.

If the scenario takes shape that moves reauthorization to 2011, the question may be whether some type of transportation safety bill would be considered in the upcoming year, 2010. There are a number of safety issues that include bus safety, EOBR’s, and distracted driving that Congress could decide to take action on in 2010, maybe even broader program policy issues. But it is far too soon to make a real assessment of such possibilities.