Earlier this month, Congress approved a $305 billion act to fund the country’s roads, bridges, and rail lines. It is the largest transportation bill in more than a decade and will last five years. The auto and train accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm detail this bill and how it will affect public safety.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will reauthorize federal transportation programs like the Highway Trust Fund and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FAST is 1,300 pages, so we have briefly summarized the most pertinent details into the categories below:
FAST includes a provision that increases the total amount of money Amtrak can be liable for accident claims. The new increased limit will retroactively apply to victims of the deadly derailment in Philadelphia, which we wrote about here. The cap on payments a railroad can make to accident victims was previously set at $200 million and is now capped at $295 million.
Although FAST may delay the settlement of death and injury claims from the crash, it will also ensure victims are paid as much as possible for their suffering. Currently, 98 claims have been filed against Amtrak from the Philadelphia derailment.
The bill includes $10 billion funding to Amtrak, with $200 million allocated to helping passenger railroads install train control technologies to prevent derailments.
Public and Mass Transit
FAST set aside $12 billion for mass transit funding and $1 billion for vehicle safety programs. Among its provisions, the bill will require rental car agencies to repair recalled vehicles before consumers are able to rent them, which has been a long time coming.
The union representing city bus drivers won a provision requiring the government to take action in protecting drivers from assault. The Federal Transit Administration also must ensure local transit agencies like the CTA provide bathroom access and breaks for bus drivers.
FAST will also establish a new national advisory committee, consisting of travel and tourism industry officials. This committee will develop a nationwide strategy for making sure transportation policies address travelers needs.
The trucking industry managed to convince lawmakers to make a public website for safety reporting private. The Safety Measurement System ranks trucking companies on safety, compliance and accountability, using data such as crash risks and fault.
FAST will allow companies to change how drivers are drug tested, to include hair testing as well as urine testing.
The bill will also allow former military personnel who have experience operating machinery similar to trucks or buses to use their experience toward getting a Commercial Driver’s License. Veterans will be able to count their relevant experience in the military toward skills and driving tests, making it easier to access trucking jobs. Veterans will also be able to get their medical certificates from VA doctors, rather than pre-approved Federal Motor Carrier doctors.
Highway Trust Fund
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This fund is used to update the nation’s roads, bridges and railways, and it has nearly run dry over the last few years as Congress grappled with approval of the new bill. State and local governments have had trouble accessing the fund as Congress negotiated, restricting their ability to plan and start big projects.
FAST will create new programs that focus federal aid on eliminating bottlenecks such as lane reductions, merging, and other interruptions that cause major vulnerability points on highways. This will also help increase the capacity of highways that are major freight corridors.
Money for the trust will be partly funded by customs fees from airline and cruise passengers, and the Federal Reserve. The bill does not resolve how to pay for the Fund long-term, however.
The team of trucking, train and auto accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm will continue to update this blog on new federal and state regulations regarding transportation. If you or someone you love was seriously injured or killed in a transportation accident, contact our firm for a free case review. We accept clients nationwide.