March 2012

Legislative and Regulatory Update

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

A whole host of new regulations and possible legislation are on the horizon for motorcoach operators. METRO spoke to the ABA's Norm Littler and UMA's Ken Presley to find out the latest on some of the issues.

CSA - Last May, METRO focused on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) CSA- Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

"The FMCSA intended for CSA to change behaviors, and from what we see that appears to be happening," explains Presley.

As part of CSA, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation's quest to improve passenger carrier safety, the FMCSA stepped up motorcoach enforcement to be more proactive in finding and putting so-called "rogue operators" out of business. In 2011, the FMCSA issued 11 imminent hazard orders against motorcoach operators.

Seat Belts - The big issue of 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) rule is expected to be released this year, possibly by the spring.

"When the seat belt rule is finally released, it will take an awful lot of pressure off, because many of the folks on Capitol Hill believe seat belts are the answer," says Littler, adding that the ABA expects the rollover rule to be published shortly thereafter.

One particularly contentious issue that many are waiting to see resolved is whether NHTSA will require the retrofitting of motorcoaches that were purchased before seat belts are required.

"All the vehicles that were manufactured and are in service today in the U.S. met the Federal Vehicle Safety Standards at the time of manufacture, so they were purchased in good faith," says Presley. "It is difficult to imagine NHTSA trying to approach something on that scale."

Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) - Although there is strong support for EOBRs in the industry, including endorsements by both the ABA and UMA, the court recently overturned the FMCSA's EOBR rule following a lawsuit filed by the Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). In its suit, OOIDA asked the court to issue a mandate ordering the FMCSA to cease and desist from authorizing, sanctioning or in any way encouraging the use of EOBRs until the agency has promulgated regulations that ensure such devices will not be used to harass drivers.

The FMCSA is expecting to release a new rule that would pass court muster.

"EOBRs eliminate all those general form and manner violations currently found in the SMS (Safety Measurement System) scores. Also, all the recordkeeping is tremendously reduced, and any possibility of log fraud goes away, so from the enforcement side of things, it's just a good standard," Littler says.

Legislation - There are still a couple of motorcoach safety bills floating around Congress, which are often brought back to the forefront following a motorcoach accident. The general sentiment throughout the industry tends to continue favoring regulations over legislation.

"Congress has a duty to react to their constituents and certainly has a role to play in transportation," says Presley. "Much of the legislation we see floating about almost stumbles over the current efforts by NHTSA and FMCSA."

Littler agrees with Presley, adding that Congress doesn't understand the engineering process as well as officials at NHTSA might. He also fears sweeping legislation that would force the industry to make several engineering changes at once.

"You don't put a cost against the saving of a human life...one loss is too many," he says. "However, if you make a vehicle filled with all the new standards that are proposed in some of the legislation out there, it all of a sudden becomes unaffordable and you're placing an entire industry in jeopardy."


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