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Trucking got some of what it wanted in new federal highway bill

Congress passed and the president recently signed a $305 billion highway-funding bill. We suspect few in Texas are unaware of this news.

The measure is broadly focused on providing funds to upgrade the nation's interstate infrastructure over the next five years. But when one looks at some of the more granular issues of the massive bill, it becomes clear that reducing the risk of deadly truck accidents safety was a major focus of the debate in Washington and that truckers got some, but not all, of what it wanted.

For example, the trucking industry says it is facing is a shortage of drivers. Baby boom-aged drivers are starting to retire in large numbers but officials say there aren't enough young drivers entering the field to make up for the losses. They say companies and drivers are facing increased pressure to keep pace with demand from shippers. Some claim one response has been for truckers to unsafely push the limits of human and mechanical endurance.

Industry lobbyists used the highway funding debate to push a couple of ideas to address the shortage problem. One was to allow longer trucks. Lawmakers didn't go for that. Another was to allow heavier trucks on the road. That didn't fly, either.

One idea that did get a little bit of traction was a proposal to allow drivers as young as 18 to gain their commercial driving licenses so they can do interstate hauls. That's something that is restricted to drivers 21 and up.

Congress didn't approve the initial plan, but it did give the OK to a modified three-year pilot program that opens the door to some drivers as young as 18. The condition is that participants have to be military veterans who have gained essential big rig driving skills as part of their service.

Despite that win, industry officials still express disappointment. But critics say the stand against what they see as anti-safety rollbacks was necessary for motorists' peace of mind.

Source: Bloomberg, "Teen-Trucker Provisions Scaled Back in Final Highway Bill," Jeff Plungis, Dec. 3, 2015

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