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Will federal highway funding bill reduce truck accidents?

If you've been tapped into the headlines lately you likely know that Congress actually passed some significant legislation recently. President Obama signed it into law earlier this month. The measure goes by different names. One of them is Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. FAST for short.

There's nothing short about the legislation. It runs 1,300 pages long and calls for $305 billion in spending for infrastructure upgrades over the next five years. There's also hope in some circles that it might do something to address a particular issue of concern -- the shortage of available truck drivers in Texas and the rest of the country.

According to the American Trucking Association, there's a need for nearly 48,000 drivers to meet shipping demands right now. Over the next 10 years, it's expected that about 89,000 new drivers are going to be needed every year. The reason for the gap is that a lot of older truckers are retiring and there is a dearth of qualified drivers on the young end of the scale.

Industry lobbyists pushed a number of ideas to address this issue during FAST Act deliberations. One suggested raising the maximum allowable weight limits for semitractor trailers to 91,000 pounds. The current maximum is 80,000. A second sought to allow trucks to get bigger by extending the allowable length of tandem trailer trucks from 28 feet to 33. A third would have opened the door to exploring letting drivers as young as 18 to get licensed for interstate hauling.

Those ideas were widely criticized by safety experts in and out of government. Their consensus was that allowing any of those changes would only damage infrastructure more or increase the risk of deadly accidents involving semitrailer trucks.

In the end, there was compromise. To address the shortage issue, FAST allows military veterans, even those under the age of 21, who have service experience and training with comparable heavy-duty truck equipment to apply that experience toward qualifying for skills tests mandated by the government.

Whether the middle-ground solution will do the trick is something we will have to wait to see.

Source: NATSO.com, "Delving Into the Highway Bill: Trucking Issues," Dec. 10, 2015

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