A $340 billion, six-year highway and transit bill passed Thursday includes an amendment to require the U.S. Department of Transportation to study minimum insurance levels required of motor carriers and stop the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from raising them.
FMCSA has pending rulemaking that would automatically raise limits that have been in effect for the past three decades. The National School Transportation Association lobbied for the study’s inclusion in the bill, as the private school bus organization estimated that motor carrier liability requirements might rise by 400 percent if the FMCSA were allowed to proceed. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) filed the amendments to remove the insurance provision, and NSTA engaged its members over the last several days to write their congressional representatives for support.
The Surface Transportation Reform and Reauthorization Act of 2015, which passed by a vote of 363-64, states that the U.S. DOT must complete a study of the minimum financial responsibility requirements placed on passenger carriers before implementation of any rule-making to change the minimum levels of financial responsibility under section 31138 of title 49, United States Code.
The study must review accidents, injuries and fatalities in school buses and over-the-road buses, and review current insurance levels held by companies that operate these buses to determine if the insurance is adequate to cover resulting claims. The DOT must also analyze whether and how insurance affects the behavior and safety record of passenger carriers and if it correlates to a reduction in crashes. Further analysis must anticipate how higher insurance premiums would financially impact bus companies and how the higher premiums might affect service availability.
The bill directs the DOT to conduct the study in cooperation with representatives of the over-the-road bus and private school bus transportation industries, including representatives of bus drivers and insurance companies.
Other items passed in the bill of note for school bus contractors are a provision to keep Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program scores public and a reform and "strengthened prioritization of diesel retrofits" tied to the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) improvement program, according to NSTA.
The House bill must be reconciled in conference with a Senate version, and Politico reported that the final agreement must be reached before the current Highway Trust Fund policy expires on Nov. 20.