The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced $1.6 billion in funding for the repair of roads and bridges from the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA). Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary, made the announcement Monday. The funding will go toward the repair of U.S. roads and bridges that have been damaged by natural disasters. LaHood offered an inspriational explanation, “Communities from coast to coast are still recovering from disasters that have affected the roads they use, their homes and businesses.” He continued, “The Obama Administration stands ready to provide emergency relief and reimburse these communities for the work that has been done to restore their critical transportation needs.”
Costs for debris removal, detours, and any other immediate measures necessary to restore traffic flow are deemed eligible for reimbursement from the fund. States such as Vermont, which faced severe tragedy by Hurricane Irene, will receive $125.6 million; North Dakota will receive $89.1 million for the Devils Lake Basin for damage caused by Spring 2011 runoff; and Iowa will receive $37.5 million to repair damage caused by the May 2011 Missouri River flooding.
The states previously mentioned were among the top recipients of aid from the FHWA. A complete list of states and funding amounts is listed here.
A new senate bill is set to give the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) the power to increase tolls. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Michael Grimm introduced the bill early this month. If the Commuter Protection Act Bill passes, the DOT would have toll authority for the first time since 1987.
The bill is in response to Response to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's plan to:
- Raise tolls between the states from $8 to $15 by 2015.
- For cars with E-Z Pass, the toll will be raised from $8 to $12.50.
- Five-axle trucks that currently pay $40 dollars will have to pay as much as $125.
Rep. Grimm and Sen. Lautenberg noticed how unfair these tolls were and how misused the revenue from the tolls was. Congressional leaders said the legislation is needed to ensure toll revenue is spent on highway infrastructure needs.
Bill Graves, President and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA), said, "We applaud Rep. Grimm and Sen. Lautenberg for introducing this vital piece of legislation”. He continued, "Having seen the toll increase proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, they are acutely aware of the negative impact of allowing toll agencies unchecked power to raise tolls for whatever reason they want."
Before the DOT lost the ability to regulate tolls, it had the power to deem whether or not a toll was fair. If a toll was determined unfair, the Transportation Secretary could override such hikes and put more “reasonable” maximum tolls in place. The new bill looks to restore this power back to the DOT.
Anyone who follows these blogs knows, in no uncertain terms, my position on distracted driving. Distracted driving is, in my opinion, the drunk driving of the 21st century. Those of us old enough to remember the carnage of the 70’s and 80’s know it took a full court press to force states to pass open container laws, lower the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for DUI, etc. Prior to that time society just accepted the annual toll of killed and injured in alcohol related crashes. How many of us thought, “There but for the grace of God goes I.” with respect to DUI arrests?
Distracted driving has been shown in study after study to be every bit as debilitating as drunk driving. Distracted drivers show delayed recognition, reaction and response times akin to those exhibited by drivers with a BAC of .08.
Distracted driving, as we all know, isn’t limited to texting… which is by far the worst because drivers take their eyes off the road for extended periods of time. Nor is it a matter of just looking down to dial or even holding the phone both of which affect the drivers ability to safely control the vehicle.
Distracted driving is born of the mistaken idea that we can multi-task. Other than involuntary functions like breathing the human body and particularly the human brain can not multi-task. The brain does not multi-task… it switches back and forth between tasks. If the brain gets involved in a conversation requiring deep thought and concentration… it no longer scans mirrors or monitors traffic and hazards.
Distracted driving can occur with an intense conversation between occupants in the same vehicle. It is the conversation… not the device… that causes the distraction. The most frightening part of the debate on distracted driving to date is the sheer number of drivers I talk to who a) recognize the signs of distracted driving in others but b) insist they are some how immune to the affects.
The NTSB is right on with its recommendation and the FMCSA should act immediately to implement it. No one should be driving distracted and, like drunk driving in the late 20th century it will be a difficult genie to put back in the bottle. But the difficulty of the task should not deter us. We can get a handle on it and drivers of 80,000 lb. tractor trailers, professional drivers committed to safety, is the most logical place to start.
I commend the NTSB and call upon the FMCSA to act quickly to issue a NPRM.
In the interim I challenge every motor carrier in the United States to implement a no cell phone policy. We owe our drivers and the motoring public no less.
Written By: Kevin Mullen, Director- Safety, Human Resources and Recruiting
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has launched their newly redesigned website - www.ProtectYourMove.gov. The site has many resources to help consumers protect themselves from fraudulent interstate household goods moving companies. It also includes a user-friendly database that allows users to look up interstate moving companies by state or by name. Visitors to the site can also review both the consumer complaint history as well as the company's on-road safety performance records. The re-vamped website is a great way to ensure consumer safety and let them know exactly who and what they’re dealing with.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said “If you are planning an interstate move, your first stop should be the ProtectYourMove website. You can avoid rogue movers by following the important advice provided on the FMCSA website.” More than 40 million Americans entrust their household goods to moving companies every year. While the majority of movers are reputable, consumers need to be aware of how to avoid those who are not.
Five facts every consumer should know to avoid being taken advantage of by a rogue mover are:
The website contains resources covering consumer rights and responsibilities for individuals hiring a moving company. Additional materials include tips for spotting rogue movers, checklists for consumers and information outlining all federal regulations and policies that govern interstate moves. For more info or to report unsafe and poor performing moving companies call the FMCSA's nationwide complaint hotline at 1-888-368-7238 (1-888 DOT-SAFT) or visit www.ProtectYourMove.gov
Earlier this month, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and other committee leaders outlined a $230 billion, six-year transportation authorization bill that would cut transportation spending by $76 billion. The current program was set to expire in September 2009, but was extended 7 times. This new bill will mark the end of the old program. The previous reauthorization bill was closer to $285 billion over just 5 years; the new bill is set to spending by about 33%.
The bill had to be restructured because there wasn’t enough funding to keep the old bill going much past 2013. With a reduction in gas use, the fund was projected to go broke if there was no increase in revenue. Since there is no increased gas tax in sight the best option was to just restructure the current program and cut spending. According to Sustainable City Network “The bill would consolidate 100 transportation-related programs into 30, and end programs such as transportation enhancements that have funded pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths in many cities, although the states would be allowed to spend funds on those programs if they wish.”
The bill has seen some resistance from Democrats who are pushing back with their own reauthorization bill. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) reiterated her intention to introduce a two-year bill maintaining current spending levels adjusted for inflation. Her plan will require $12 billion in additional revenues. The other main problem with the 33% reduction is job loss. Boxer released state-by-state job-loss: 490,627 highway construction jobs would be lost and close to 100,000 transit-related jobs would be gone as well.
For more information on how this new bill can affect carriers click link.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported earlier this week that it had seen dramatic declines in the amount of distracted drivers in Syracuse, NY and Hartford, Conn. The reduction is a result of two pilot projects that focus on increased law enforcement and high-profile public education campaigns such as distraction.gov that was started to combat distracted driving. Each was supported by $200,000 in federal funds and $100,000 from the state. The costs were attributed to the increased police presence and paid advertising and news media coverage; both very expensive, but effective ways of preventing distracted driving.
The pilot campaign slogan was “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other” and was structured similarly to the highly-successful national seat belt campaign, “Click It or Ticket.” Over 4 periods of increased law enforcement the police forces in the two cities gave out almost 20,000 citations combined for driver violations involving talking or texting on cell phones while operating a vehicle. Cell phone use and texting behind the wheel have declined by one-third in Syracuse and by more than half in Hartford. “The success of these pilot programs clearly show that combining strong laws with strong enforcement can bring about a sea change in public attitudes and behavior,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. He continued, “We applaud the work of the men and women of the Syracuse and Hartford police forces, and call on state legislatures, law enforcement and safety advocates across the nation to follow their lead.”
The next step is for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement a three-part formula: tough laws, strong enforcement, and ongoing public awareness; statewide. For tips on preventing distracted driving visit the FMCSA website and help keep our roads safe.
Since late April the price of diesel has been on a constant decline. Oil firms are lowering the diesel price so they can raise the price of regular gasoline. Since May 2 the national average price has fallen 27.4 cents and is at its lowest level since March 7. In all areas across the U.S. diesel prices have been dropping, even in the Rocky Mountain region which showed no change through the first 2 weeks or so of the start of the price decline.
The National on-highway diesel prices fell by 2 cents the first week of May to $4.104, according to the Energy Information Administration, while the Rocky Mountain region showed no change and the Gulf Coast dropped the most, down 3.8 cents to $4.022, the cheapest nationwide. The price decline of diesel is great for truckers and others using diesel, but not so good for regular commuters who go for unleaded or other types of regular gasoline.
Oil prices may continue to rise this week due to recent floods in the New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge region, which has 11 refineries with a combined capacity of 2.5 million barrels a day, or 13% of U.S. output. In the last week of May, The national average for on-highway diesel prices decreased yesterday just shy of a nickel, 4.9 cents, over last week. Meanwhile, oil prices rose about 2 percent.
Just last week, the national average price dropped 3.8 cents to $3.85. The California average price dropped 8.1 cents to $4.065, while the rest of the West Coast decreased 7.6 cents to $3.993. California and New England remain the only areas above $4 a gallon. The national average price is 92.6 cents higher than a year ago. The record diesel price was $4.764 in July 2008. Will prices continue to fall or will we see another summer like 2008? Only time will tell.
A poll from the Mineta Transportation Institute showed that under certain circumstances, Americans were for a new tax on gas. The poll, “What Do Americans Think About Federal Transportation Tax Options? Results from Year 2 of a National Survey”, is a national random-digit-dial public opinion survey that asked 1,516 respondents if they would support various tax options for raising federal transportation revenues. The problem is with the current gas tax and with the increasing number of fuel efficient cars on the road; the government isn’t generating enough revenue to keep roads in good condition. A new tax would be centered on public opinion and would seek to end the lack of revenue issue.
Americans were not all for the tax, but in certain instances a majority was for the conditional tax. For example, a gas tax increase of 10¢ per gallon to improve road maintenance was supported by 62% of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 24% if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system. The conclusion from this would be that Americans like to see where their tax money is going so if they can see roads improving, they can stomach paying a higher tax. Also, at least 50% supported an increase of 10¢ per gallon with the revenues dedicated either to projects reducing accidents and improving safety or projects to “add more modern, technologically advanced systems.”
The 18 question survey found that the public was much more drawn to a sales tax than to either of the other two options. The other two taxes were a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax. However, with certain stipulations the support for the two alternate taxes increased. For example, instead of a flat rate mileage tax of 1¢ per mile and a 10¢ gas tax increase, a mileage tax varying by the vehicle’s pollution level increased support by 14 percentage points. For the gas tax, dedicating the tax proceeds to maintaining streets, roads, and highways increased support by 38 percentage points.
The results seem to point to one main result; the American public is willing to fork over the extra cash as long as they get to see exactly where the money goes. If the taxes are raised and no visible improvement is made to something of use to them (i.e. roads) then there will be outrage and a call for the tax to be lowered or directed at a different cause.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has recently been cracking down on bus companies. Four more bus companies have been shut down due to unsafe operation and other violations. Some companies that have been previously shut down are now attempting to reopen under new names. The DOT has taken care of these as well and is attempting to shut down others trying the same trick. The recent crackdown is mostly in response to a fatal crash involving a company that was to be shut down 2 days before the crash occurred.
The company was Sky Express and the DOT set out to shut them down on May 29th but the company was given 10 days to appeal. The crash, one of four accidents involving Sky Express in the past 2 years, took place in the early morning of the 31st and also took the lives of 4 passengers. The crash also left 54 injured and wondering why the company hadn’t been shut down before. Sky Express was issued a cease and desist for attempting to operate and sell tickets under different company names, including 108 Tours and 108 Bus. Sky Express was also cited for 46 violations for fatigued driving including three cases that were reported as serious. Drivers with Sky Express have been cited for 17 unsafe-driving violations, including eight speeding violations since 2009. The company is now shut down and certainly will not be operating again even under a different name.
The three other companies to be shut down were Haines Tour, United Tours Inc., JCT Motor Coach Inc. and its affiliate JT’s Travel & Charter Inc. of Atlanta. Haines had been cited for allowing passengers to ride in the luggage compartment as well as having unsecured luggage. The company was warned of the offense in August 2010, but was caught again in May for the same violation culminating in their out of service order. United Tours was using unqualified drivers and was also ordered to shut down. Lastly, JCT Motor Coach Inc. and JT’s Travel & Charter Inc. of Atlanta were shut down for trying to evade a previous out of service order given by the DOT. The companies were also caught using unqualified drivers and falsifying vehicle maintenance records.
This is the beginning of a larger crackdown on bus companies, especially companies charging unusually low rates like the ones mentioned above were. They charge lower rates because of the lack of safety that comes with these types of companies. In the past 5 years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has doubles the amount of bus inspections and comprehensive safety reviews. There are over 4,000 bus companies nationwide and they will be subject to more roadside inspections and compliance reviews; both of which have doubled in the past year.
By September, Maine will be the 33rd state to ban texting while driving. The law has already been passed, but the rule will go into effect this fall. The minimum fine for the offense will be $100. With such a large majority now with some sort of ban on cell phones, it makes one wonder about the other 17 states that do not have bans. The wave of states banning cell phone use in some form started in 2009 when the Department of Transportation (DOT) launched its anti-distracted driving campaign; centered on Distraction.gov.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood started the campaign to combat the growing trend of dangerous distracted driving behavior in America. Distraction.gov is his main tool to educate the American public on the dangers of distracted driving and many state governments have taken notice of his work and the raw data being pulled on the dangers of distracted driving. "Distracted driving kills thousands of people every year on our roads and injures hundreds of thousands more," said LaHood. "By signing this tough texting ban into law today, Gov. LePage has taken a crucial step to improve safety and save lives on Maine roads." He was referring to Maine Governor Paul LePage, the man who signed off on the law to ban texting in his state.
Maine is yet another victory for LaHood in his attempt to make U.S. roads safer. With more and more states joining the fight it’s only a matter of time before all states ban cell phone use in some form. As it stands right now, 8 states (Calif., Conn., Del., Md., N.J., N.Y., Ore. and Wash.), D.C. and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving, 33 states ban texting for all drivers, and somewhat surprisingly, no states ban all cell phone use for all drivers. However, it may seem as though we’re heading in that direction. 30 states already have full bans on novice drivers and 19 have full bans on school bus drivers. Some states have laws that are primary enforcement which means a driver can be ticketed for just improper cell phone use; the driver does not need to be committing another driving violation as well. 7 of the 8 states with handheld use are primary enforcement and 29 of the 33 states with bans on just texting have primary enforcement.
The DOT has given police the power to crack down on distracted driving which should bring it to an effective end sometime in the future. Drivers shouldn’t text not only because of the fines they could receive, but because of how dangerous it is as well. Cell phone use and driving do not mix well, Maine is the 33rd state to take notice of this and the DOT couldn’t be happier with the state’s decision.