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Congress Passes, President Signs New Highway Bill: What It Means to You

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CARS.COM — Congress just passed, and President Barack Obama signed, a highway bill that authorizes funding for state and local transit projects over the next five years, as well as updating myriad regulations that affect roads, rails and the auto industry. Here’s what you need to know.

Related: Study: Toll Roads Up Close

The bill, dubbed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, passed the Senate on Dec. 3 after clearing the House. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in statement that the bill is “not perfect, and there is still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.” The bill required 36 extensions and “hundreds” of congressional meetings, Foxx said. The president signed the bill on Dec. 4.

If you want to read the whole thing, well, clear out your schedule because it’s 1,317 pages long. Here’s what drivers should pay the most attention to:

  • Vehicle-to-infrastructure equipment. The bill encourages the installation of V2I equipment — an important, if still largely theoretical, safety element as self-driving technology proliferates.
  • Fewer speed traps. The bill bans states from using federal funding on automated traffic enforcement systems, like speed cameras or red-light cameras, except in school zones. It will also require states to share data on how they use the cameras.
  • Bus safety. The bill includes a number of public-transit changes, including an 89 percent increase in bus funding over the next five years. It also mandates that the Transportation secretary review public-transit safety standards to possibly establish minimum standards for public transit.
  • Joint effort. The bill requires the secretary of Transportation to study the practicality of implementing a standard of driving impairment for marijuana users.
  • Better recall website. The bill requires the Transportation secretary to improve the government’s recall website within two years with best practices to ensure the site is easier to use and stable under high traffic.
  • More oversight over recall completion. Within a year after the bill goes into effect, the Transportation secretary must analyze recall-completion rates and determine how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can improve them. Follow-up analyses must be conducted two and four years later, and the Department of Transportation’s inspector general must audit NHTSA’s recall management.
  • Maintenance funding. Perhaps most importantly, the bill ensures solvency through the 2020 fiscal year for the Highway Trust Fund – a 59-year-old fund paid through gas taxes that supports highway maintenance and public transit.
  • Steeper penalties. The bill raises the cap on how much NHTSA can penalize automakers for safety lapses from $35 million to $105 million. Safety advocates have criticized the previous cap as too low.

The bill reportedly costs $305 billion. Judging by the votes (83 to 16 in the Senate; 359 to 65 in the House) it had broad bipartisan support.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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