U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said at CES, an annual technology show in Las Vegas, that she plans to take steps toward creating policy guiding the development of self-driving transportation for trucks, buses, transit systems and trains. One of the steps that Chao plans to take toward creating this new policy is to deregulate these industries.
“I also want to take this opportunity to announce that the Department (DOT) will be seeking public input from across the transportation industry to identify existing barriers to innovation. This includes not only barriers that impact vehicles, but also impediments to innovations that can impact our highways, railroads, trains and motor carriers,” Chao said.
In response to Chao’s announcement, SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch wrote in an email, “This rush to autonomous vehicles of all kinds should worry all transportation workers.
“We have been working with Congress to limit legislation on self-driving vehicles to automobiles and to not include buses and trucks. So far our efforts on that front have been successful,” Risch said. “We will continue to work on this issue, but the times they are a-changing.”
As part of Chao’s efforts to deregulate the transportation industry, notices for public comment have appeared in the Federal Register on behalf of DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

  • Click here to read the Request for Information on Integration of ADS into the Highway Transportation System as published by the Federal Register – to be published 01/18


  • Click here to read the Request for Comments on Automated Transit Buses Research Program as published in the Federal Register
  • Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation


  • Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Vehicles from the Federal Register

bus2In an article published Dec. 27, The Advocate speculates whether or not school buses would be safer with seat belts.

Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that school buses could be safer with the addition of safety belts. The agency has long-maintained that safety belts in school buses are unnecessary.

In their story, The Advocate explores the pros and cons of having safety belts on school buses.

Read more from The Advocate here.

Advocates for Highway & Auto SafetyToday, Congress put the safety of all motorists before the special interest agenda of a few select trucking and shipping companies. The proposal to force all states to allow double 33-feet trailer trucks, known as “Double 33s,” was not included in the omnibus spending bill.

These monster-size trucks shouldn’t be on the road and they shouldn’t be slipped into an omnibus spending bill. This lethal federal mandate would have meant oversized trucks at least 84 feet long – the length of an eight-story office building – sharing the road next to families. Opposition to this proposal was clear and compelling. 

The Senate voted on two separate occasions against overturning state laws to permit Double 33s. Additionally, a large coalition of public health and safety groups, trucking companies, law enforcement, truck drivers, truck crash victims and survivors, rail workers and suppliers, and rail short lines objected. A recent public opinion poll found that an overwhelming 77 percent of the public opposed the measure. 

Double 33s would have resulted in a degradation of safety on our roads and highways at a time when fatalities are on the rise. Funding bills are becoming magnets for special interests seeking to add riders that roll back safety laws and regulations that would never pass Congressional oversight and public review.

We applaud the budget negotiators for dropping this provision and thank Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and many other members of Congress and their dedicated staffs for their leadership on this issue. We also commend the budget negotiators for increasing the funding levels for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

While we are disappointed that the appropriators did not fully fund NHTSA for the amount set in the authorizing bill, the FAST Act (Pub. L. 114-94), the increase was desperately needed in light of the continuing string of auto industry defects, recalls and cover-ups.

Unfortunately, the bill includes an extension of the “tired truckers” provision enacted in last year’s spending bill. This provision takes away truck drivers “weekends off” and pushes them to work up to 82 hours a week.

Annually 4,000 people are killed and another 100,000 more are injured in crashes involving a large truck, and fatigue is a major factor and well-known crash cause. Crashes such as the one which seriously injured Tracy Morgan and killed James McNair are jarring reminders of why this provision, known as the Collins amendment, should be stopped.

The approaching holiday season should not be an opportunity to reward special interests with goodies and favors that jeopardize safety. Unfortunately, this bill included exemptions from federal safety standards for select special interests.

We urge Congress to stop the tradition of delivering industry handouts wrapped in a big red bow and instead give constituents the gift of safer roads, sound infrastructure, and sensible legislation that doesn’t result in more deaths and costs to families.

DOT_Logo_150pxLast month at NHTSA, we brought together many of our safety partners to discuss how we might better protect children when they ride school buses.

Today, thankfully, school buses are the safest way for children to get around. On average each year, four school-age children lost their lives in bus crashes from 2000 to 2012. Contrast that with the 490 school-age children killed in passenger vehicle crashes over that same time period and you begin to understand why parents can feel confident in their children’s safety when they get on the big yellow bus.

That said, NHTSA doesn’t accept that we have to lose any children in school bus tragedies—not a single one—and we brought experts together to ask tough questions about whether –and how– we can make school bus travel even safer.

As you might have guessed, one of the first questions many parents ask is, “Why aren’t there seat belts on school buses?”

And, although school bus design and school bus seats provide compartmentalized protection, we want to continue asking the questions that parents are asking about seat belts while also pursuing other promising avenues toward greater safety.

We began our day with presentations from NHTSA about school bus activities from Dr. Shashi Kuppa, followed by Dr. Kris Poland of the National Transportation Safety Board. We were also joined by representatives from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, the National School Transportation Association, and local school transportation directors.

At the end of the day, it was clear that loading zone safety, seat belt usage, and distraction all play a role in the overall safety of student transportation.

With the information gathered from this meeting, the NHTSA team will be able to identify operational and policy challenges and solutions, and explore innovative funding approaches that could serve as a catalyst for change in the coming months.

While current data do establish the relative safety of school buses, our children aren’t data points.  That’s why we’ve made the safety of the big yellow buses that bring them to and from school each day our priority today at NHTSA.

School buses are safe; we can make them safer.



WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced today that the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has finalized its rule requiring electronic stability control (ESC) systems on heavy trucks and large buses (FMVSS No. 136).

“ESC is a remarkable safety success story, a technology innovation that is already saving lives in passenger cars and light trucks,” Foxx said. “Requiring ESC on heavy trucks and large buses will bring that safety innovation to the largest vehicles on our highways, increasing safety for drivers and passengers of these vehicles and for all road users.”

ESC works instantly and automatically to maintain directional control in situations where the driver’s own steering and braking cannot be accomplished quickly enough to prevent the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended a requirement for ESC on heavy-duty vehicles since 2011. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), enacted in 2012, directed NHTSA to consider an ESC requirement for motorcoaches, which are covered in today’s rule. A rule requiring light-duty vehicles to include ESC took effect in 2012.

“Reducing crashes through ESC in these trucks and buses will save lives – nearly 50 each year. It will move goods and people more efficiently and reduce the toll crashes take on our economy through traffic delays and property damage,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “It’s a win for the safety and convenience of the traveling public and for our economy.”

NHTSA estimates the rule will prevent as many as 1,759 crashes, 649 injuries and 49 fatalities each year. ESC will prevent up to 56 percent of untripped, rollover crashes – that is, rollover crashes not caused by striking an obstacle or leaving the road.

The final rule announced today requires ESC systems on heavy trucks and large buses exceeding 26,000 pounds in gross weight. Compliance will be tested using a “J-turn” test that replicates a curved highway off-ramp. It will take effect for most heavy trucks two years from publication. The requirement will take effect in three years for buses larger than 33,000 pounds and four years for those weighing between 26,000 and 33,000 pounds.

DOT_Logo_150pxU.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Feb. 2 announced President Obama’s $94.7 billion Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The proposal makes critical investments in infrastructure needed to promote long-term economic growth, enhance safety and efficiency, and support jobs for the 21st century.

Speaking at a town hall at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Foxx highlighted the president’s budget proposal, which notably includes funding to advance research and autonomous vehicles, while announcing his report “Beyond Traffic,” a look at future trends and choices that will impact America’s transportation system over the next three decades.

“Our budget proposal lays the foundation for a future where our transportation infrastructure meets the demands of a growing population and an economy that depends on the free flow of freight,” Foxx said. “This administration is looking towards the horizon – the future – but to do this we need Congress’ partnership to pass a long-term reauthorization to put Americans to work rebuilding America.”

According to the Department of Transportation, the last year has demonstrated the pitfalls of repeated short term funding extensions and is why the president’s FY 2016 budget creates additional certainty with a six-year $478 billion surface transportation reauthorization proposal that would improve America’s highways, ports, and transit networks. The proposal would better ensure these systems are safe, and support the development of a high-performance rail system. The proposed budget would be paid for in part with $238 billion from transition revenues generated from pro-growth business tax reform.

In the last six years, according to the DOT, Congress has passed 32 short-term measures that have failed to adequately address the needs of our aging infrastructure. To keep our roads and bridges in good condition, all levels of government – federal, state, and local – will need to spend at a minimum $124 billion annually; current spending is at $100 billion. For transit projects alone, there is an $86 billion backlog in maintenance needs that grows each year.

In order to tackle the country’s infrastructure deficit and support job creation, the six-year budget includes $317 billion to rebuild America’s roads and bridges, an increase of almost 29 percent over current investment in our highway system. To help meet growing demand, the budget provides more than $143 billion to create and improve transit and passenger rail service.

The budget provides $18 billion for multi-modal freight programs to strengthen America’s global competitiveness and support the president’s “Made In America” trade agenda. In 2013, exports of goods and services reached an all-time high of $2.3 trillion, supporting 11.3 million good paying American jobs across the country. Building on the success of the 2010 National Export Initiative (NEI), the Administration has launched NEI/NEXT to help more American businesses export to more overseas markets.

To encourage private sector investment, the budget includes $1 billion annually for credit assistance for nationally or regionally significant transportation projects through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Program. The budget would also create a new Office of the Assistant Secretary for Innovative Finance to manage the Department’s credit programs and help projects develop plans to utilize innovative financing.

The FY 2016 budget reinforces the department’s commitment to safety, creating a new Office of Safety Oversight housed in the office of the secretary to improve safety efforts across all modes of transportation. The six-year proposal increases funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by an average of 20 percent over current investment levels, providing $6 billion to address safety defects on our highways. This includes $31 million in FY 2016 for NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) to enhance our ability to monitor data, find defects sooner, and strengthen NHTSA’s ability to conduct investigations of vehicles with suspected defects.

To improve safety on commuter systems, the budget provides $3 billion over six years to help with the implementation of Positive Train Control. In addition, $29 billion would be provided for targeted infrastructure investments for deficient roads and bridges through the Critical Immediate Safety Investments Program, including $7.35 billion for rural communities.

Building on the department’s commitment to safety on America’s roads, the budget invests $935 million over six years in the future of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), including $158 million in FY 2016 to accelerate research on vehicle automation and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology.

As cars exchange safety data on speed, direction, and relative position to surrounding vehicles and infrastructure, research estimates that V2V technology has the potential to reduce 70 to 80 percent of vehicle crashes. Such innovative technology will help American workers and goods travel faster and safer on our roads.

To modernize and improve NHTSA’s data collection tools, the budget includes $41.7 million in FY 2016 to establish data collections sites and expand the agencies analytical capacity.

In addition, the FY 2016 budget includes $956 million to continue efforts to modernize America’s air-traffic control system and help transition from a ground-based radar system to a more accurate, satellite-based system of the future, known as NextGen.

By Vic Baffoni
Vice President, Bus Department

As we enter the new year, we must be on the lookout for new opportunities to organize the unorganized, increase financial resources and gain political power.

We also must take advantage of new training and educational opportunities to aid our members.

The winds of unionism may have waned in recent years, but with strong leadership and dedication, and with increased resources, we can and will adjust the sails to improve our opportunities at the bargaining table, with federal regulatory agencies and lawmakers.

As we adjust to take advantage of every opportunity to better represent, serve and build our union, I will be meeting with each of our bus locals to address their concerns. I will schedule those locals with the biggest problems first and provide the attention and help they need.

One of the issues we will be watching closely is new school-bus safety standards being established by the U.S. DOT. Under the standards, scheduled to take effect within a year, school districts will have access to federal funds to equip buses with 24-inch seat backs, which is four inches higher than currently in use.

And within three years, all new smaller buses, which have an increased rollover risk, must have three-point seat belts instead of lap belts. School districts will also be encouraged to use federal funds to equip larger buses with seat belts. The new rules are available for inspection on the Internet at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.