Highway bill includes freight, auto safety provisions

AP News
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Posted: Nov 05, 2015 4:20 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sweeping transportation bill approved by the House on Thursday would put a new emphasis on freight corridors when designating highway funds and includes provisions sought by both industry and safety advocates to address auto, truck, bus, and railroad safety. Here is a look at some of the bill's provisions.

FREIGHT CORRIDORS

—Designates certain highways as part of a national freight network and dedicates $4.5 billion a year to expanding the network's capacity and reducing congestion. Creates a grant program for nationally significant freight and highway projects beginning with $725 million in the 2016 federal budget year and increasing over two years to $750 million a year.

TECHNOLOGY

—Encourages states to install equipment on roadsides, traffic lights and other highway infrastructure that can send wireless communications to properly equipped cars and trucks to warn of road problems or traffic congestion ahead and suggest alternative routes.

AUTO SAFETY

—Extends the time in which automakers must pay to fix recalled vehicles to 15 years, compared to 10 years currently.

—Authorizes more money for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that oversees the auto industry and vehicle recalls, but withholds the extra funds until the agency satisfies recommendations made by a government watchdog.

—Prohibits evidence that an automaker failed to comply with government safety guidelines from being used against the company in court. Evidence that the automaker did comply with guidelines could still be used in court.

—Requires rental-car companies to fix safety defects in recalled vehicles before they can be rented. But used car dealers could continue to sell recalled vehicles that have not been repaired, and new car dealers could continue to loan unrepaired vehicles to customers.

—Requires the safety administration to study and report to Congress on whether it's feasible to establish a threshold for marijuana-impaired driving much like the limit on alcohol in the bloodstream for drunken driving. The agency is also to assess methods for a roadside marijuana check much like the breathalyzer test for alcohol.

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TRUCKS AND BUSES

—Requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to remove truck and bus company safety ratings from its public website. The ratings system was instituted in response to a series of deadly truck and motorcoach crashes. The trucking and bus industries says the agency's methodology is flawed and unfair.

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RAILROADS

—Creates obstacles to the Department of Transportation's implementation of a rule issued in May that requires trains hauling crude oil to be equipped with brakes that automatically stop all rail cars at the same time, rather than sequentially. Instead, it orders the Government Accountability Office to study the benefits of the brakes and the National Academy of Sciences to conduct real-world performance tests. The provision was sought by the freight railroad industry, which opposes the rule.

—Requires new tank cars used to transport crude oil to have a layer of material between their inner and outer shells to protect contents from overheating and possibly exploding if nearby tank cars catch fire.

—Requires railroads to have a publicly available oil-spill response plan and to provide information to emergency workers on the routing and movement of crude oil.