May 23, 2011 10:30 AM, EDT

Measure Would Provide Truckers Tax Break for Investing in Some Safety Technologies

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the May 23 print edition of Transport Topics.

Fleets could receive tax credits for certain advanced safety technologies under a bill introduced this month in the House of Representatives.

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Advanced Safety Technology Act specifies four safety systems for heavy vehicles that would be eligible for tax credits of up to $1,500 per system and $3,500 per vehicle.

Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) introduced the bill, with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) co-sponsoring.

“Each year, there are over 384,000 crashes involving trucks, buses and other heavy vehicles,” Thompson said in his statement. “Many of these accidents could have been prevented if advanced safety technologies had been in place.”

Four varieties of systems would be eligible for the credit: brake-stroke monitoring systems, lane-departure warning systems, collision warning systems and vehicle-stability systems. The bill allows the administrators of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to certify additional safety systems as well.

“Eligible devices for the tax credit have been identified by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance as holding great potential to provide significant safety benefits and are not already mandated by the federal government,” Davis said in his May 4 statement.

The bill would give truck and bus owners five-year tax credits for 50% of the costs of the safety systems. Each fleet or vehicle owner could get only $350,000 a year in credits. Thompson introduced the legislation in 2009 and gathered 37 co-sponsors.

“The technology is there,” said Dick Henderson, director of government affairs at CVSA. “Some of the bigger carriers are already investing in it. The bill is primarily designed for the smaller carriers who operate on a much thinner profit margin,” he said.

CVSA helped to write the bill by identifying eligible technologies, Henderson said.

“We had a lot of people look at it,” Henderson said. “We got pretty good confirmation that, first of all, these technologies work, and they would address a significant percentage of contributing factors to accidents.”

“Anything that helps fleets get these technologies into their vehicles is great,” said Fred Andersky, director of government affairs at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems.

Bendix manufactures vehicle-stability technology and collision warning and mitigation systems, among other safety technology, for buses and trucks.

“Overall, it helps the fleets, it helps the drivers and it helps all of us who are on the roadways,” Andersky said of the safety systems eligible for tax credit under the bill. “It helps create a safer driving environment.”

Though a mandate might be more effective at attaining widespread use of these systems, mandates involve multiple stages of regulation before they can take effect, Henderson said.

“That process, in most cases, takes several years or more,” he said.

Changes to the tax code, however, take effect far more quickly. “The day the bill is signed, the carriers can take advantage of the tax credit,” Henderson said.

Davis is not sure how much the tax credits would cost the federal government because the Congressional Budget Office, which is responsible for analyzing the costs of legislation, has not studied it, Davis spokesman Rick VanMeter said. The caps on the potential credits are meant “to mitigate potential revenue loss,” he added.

Henderson was optimistic about the bill’s prospects.

“It looks like it could be given serious consideration by the Ways and Means Committee,” he said. That committee is responsible for tax-code changes. Henderson said he believes the bill could be incorporated into the next surface transportation reauthorization bill.

Thompson was the only co-sponsor of the tax-credit bill as of last week; no senator has introduced a counterpart bill in the Senate.