Trying for a safety tax credit … again

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This bill will assist carriers and owner operators to specify safety technologies needed to prevent thousands of crashes annually involving commercial vehicles. Highways would be safer for fleet drivers and passenger car drivers alike.” –Jon Morrison, president and general manager, Meritor WABCO

There’s an old saying that while you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink. And that increasingly seems to be the case with the U.S. Congress when it comes to establishing a tax credit to spur wider adoption of various safety technologies for commercial trucks.

Two bills were sent to Congress in 2008 and 2009 to try and win such tax credits, all to no avail. Now our national legislators are getting a third opportunity by way of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Advanced Safety Technology Tax Act of 2011, introduced by Congressman Geoff Davis (R-KY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) this month as H.R. 1706.

The proposed bill would speed up the deployment of advanced safety systems by providing tax credits to purchasers of commercial vehicles of up to $1,500 per safety system and $3,500 per vehicle, while installing a cap of $350,000 annually per taxpayer.

[Here’s a look at Meritor WABCO’s OnGuard system – a system that would qualify for tax credits under this bill.]

Jon Morrison, president and general manager for Meritor WABCO, noted in a written statement that such credits will be available to all commercial motor vehicles operators, from owner-operators to fleets, and covers trucks and buses alike.

He also pointed to the U.S. government’s own research to buttress his case that such a bill could reap big benefits in terms of reducing highway fatalities and injuries.

[Morrison talked to me a couple years ago about how combining safety technologies into one package could really boost commercial vehicle safety even further.]

Indeed, a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) highlighted the potential safety benefits of roll stability control (RSC) and electronic stability control (ESC) and concluded that if all existing five-axle tractor-trailers operating in the U.S. were fitted with ESC, some 4,659 crashes, 126 fatalities and 3,132 injuries could potentially be prevented annually.

[Below, Bendix illustrates the fiscal savings commercial vehicle operators could gain by installing safety systems like ESC – which it calls “ESP” short for “Electronic Stability Program."]

Stephen Campbell, the former executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, noted during attempts to pass the previous two safety tax credit bills that only about 7% of all commercial vehicles in operation today are equipped with such technologies, largely due to their high cost.

While Campbell said he favored mandating such technology for commercial trucks and buses, he also stressed that the time lag to get such mandates on the books – anywhere from two to five years in terms of the federal rulemaking process – would needlessly delay the adoption of technology proven and ready to go today.

"By providing a tax credit, it encourages more widespread of this technology in a much shorter window of time," he told me during an interview a few years ago. "It's proven, it's been out there for a while now, and we've seen it work. While it's perfectly legitimate to suggest a mandate for these systems, in the meantime, people will be dying. We need to do something now that will improve safety faster than the rulemaking process can."

Hopefully, Congress will get safety technology tax credit legislation passed this time around.

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