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GOP Lawmakers Seek Safety-Rule Exemption for Trailers Moratorium Proposed

When you read this you will be shocked by what it says...........


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Washington Post
October 13, 2003

Edition: F
Section: A Section
Page: A2

GOP Lawmakers Seek Safety-Rule Exemption for Trailers Moratorium Proposed For Data Reporting Draws Criticism
Author: Juliet Eilperin; Washington Post Staff Writer
Article Text:Two Republican lawmakers have added language to a transportation spending bill that would exempt some trailer manufacturers from having to report safety data to the federal government.

Manufacturers and their allies called the move a common-sense solution to burdensome reporting requirements. But safety groups and some trucking organizations have said the language could create a dangerous loophole. Congress imposed the safety rules in 2000, in the wake of numerous fatal accidents involving Firestone tires. The proposed language -- just a few lines in a massive transportation appropriations bill that has passed the House and awaits Senate action -- would bar the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration from using money to enforce compliance with the reporting rules for trailers weighing 26,000 pounds or less.

These trailers haul horses, boats, snowmobiles and other loads. Under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, or TREAD, these manufacturers must submit an array of information to the safety administration including consumer complaints, field reports on possible defects and warranty information about tire problems.

The measure imposes fines and prison sentences on executives who mislead the government on safety defects, and was aimed at major auto manufacturers such as Ford, whose Explorers were at the center of the Firestone tire controversy. TREAD represented the most intense tightening of tire-reporting requirements in three decades.

But smaller trailer companies say they were inadvertently ensnared in the effort to improve road safety. The National Association of Trailer Manufacturers appealed to Reps. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) and W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) last year, saying the reporting requirements could put them out of business. The small-trailer manufacturers are seeking a one-year moratorium so they can try to scale back what they have to submit to federal administrators while still providing basic safety information, according to Norm Helmke, the trade association's president.

"We're just trying to get something that makes a little more sense than this one-size-fits-all approach," Helmke said. "We're not trying to get out of the reporting requirements." Helmke, who is director of administration at Featherlite Inc. in Cresco, Iowa, said it is easier for larger auto manufacturers to submit necessary paperwork because they have elaborate computer systems and more employees to conduct field investigations.

He estimated the new rules would cost his business, which produces horse and livestock trailers, $200,000 a year. Featherlite executives pleaded their case late last year to Latham, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee. Latham, who consulted with members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to get their approval, offered the language to impose a moratorium. "This was a piece of legislation with very good intentions, but I don't think people thought through the ramifications," Latham said of TREAD. "These small trailers are not the problem." Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said his boss "begrudgingly" agreed to back the one-year exception for the smaller trailer manufacturers, though they are still required to report fatalities. He noted that in the past three years there have been no reports of tire-related accidents involving trailers.

"Some manufacturers were looking for a total exemption from reporting requirements, and we said, 'Absolutely not,' " Johnson said. "We're caught in a very difficult position. Small manufacturers indicated they might be forced out of business by the reporting. . . . We tried for a long time to reach a compromise." But consumer and trucking groups question the treatment some trailer manufacturers are getting. "This would exempt a piece of moving highway equipment from meeting the same safety standards that the rest of us out there still have to follow," said Mike Russell, spokesman for the American Trucking Association. "This would seem to make highways less safe, and that is something our members and their truck drivers can neither understand nor support." Gerald Donaldson, senior research director at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, described the proposed exclusion for trailers as "a slippery slope." "Ultimately, that safety information that is important for consumers and users is denied to the agency, and we're against that," Donaldson said. The potential exemption "creates a conducive atmosphere for other special interests." Latham said he is cautiously optimistic that the language would make it into law. But some colleagues, such as Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), questioned the proposal. "Why would you do anything to make the roads any less safe?" asked Wolf, a member of the Appropriations Transportation subcommittee.
Copyright 2003 The Washington Post
Record Number: 101303XA02GO240407