Trucking Industry Succeeds in Getting Congress to Roll Back HOS Restart Rules

Wednesday, Dec 17 2014 admin

Truck driving in the fall weatherMany in the trucking industry got some good news over the weekend when the House and Senate approved a $1.1 trillion spending measure, which will fund the government through September and eliminate a partial government shutdown. The reason those in the trucking industry were so happy about the spending measure was due to the rider bill attached to CRomnibus bill in the form of the Collins Amendment. Put forth by Sen. Susan Collins, (R-Maine) the amendment will make changes to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) 34-hour restart rule.

Currently, a truck driver’s 34-hour restart rule must include two rest periods between 1 am and 5 am and arbitrarily limits the use of the restart to once per week. These provisions will now be suspended until the FMCSA can do a thorough study on the consequences of the provisions. The trucking industry had been urging Congress not to be misled by false information and scare tactics about the hours of service rules and their effect on safety.

An amendment to the HOS provisions had been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 5, but stalled before a floor vote was taken. The House never considered the amendment. Then earlier this year, a high profile crash involving well-known comedian Tracy Rock and a Walmart truck put the FMCSA hours-of-service (HOS) rules into the national spotlight.  Morgan was critically injured and another comedian, James McNair, was killed in the accident. It was reported that the driver involved in the crash had not slept for 24 hours prior to the crash. As a result, many lawmakers concerned about driver fatigue condemned the amendment. It resurfaced with its inclusion in the CRomnibus bill.

Trucking companies and other stakeholders believe that these restart restrictions only serve to push more trucks onto the roads in the early morning hours, which are the riskiest for crashes. “In July, 2013, with insufficient research, analysis and understanding of the consequences, the Obama administration placed two restrictions on America’s truck drivers that increased the risk of crashes on America’s highways,” said American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Bill Graves. “Senator Susan Collins, and a bipartisan majority of Senate appropriators, recognized the flaws in the changes put forth by the FMCSA and voted to approve a common sense ‘time out’ to allow for proper research to be conducted.

“This isn’t a rider being added in the middle of the night at the 11th hours as some would have the public believe. This reasonable solution allows the government to do the research it should have done ahead of time and gives the industry the flexibility thousands of fleets and millions of drivers are pleading for,” Graves continued.

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) urged its members to contact their representatives in Congress to ask for their support of the Collins Amendment. In a sample letter on its website, the TCA stressed that the amendment would “NOT make changes to: the minimum off-duty hours between shifts; the maximum on-duty period each shift; the maximum driving hours per day; the mandatory meal/rest break during a shift; the sleeper berth requirements for splitting off-duty time; or the electronic on-board recorders rule.” The letter goes on to say that if the Collins Amendment is not included, highway safety and freight productivity will be negatively impacted.  A timeout provision to further assess the rules is only common sense, says the association.

Also drumming up support for the Collins Amendment was the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) which echoed the belief that the provisions have unintended consequences. In a statement OOIDA statedthat “the provision is a common-sense approach to the concerns of thousands of safe and professional drivers who say the current restart rule has forced them on the highways during the most congested and dangerous hours of morning traffic.”

On the other hand, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the Collins Amendment should be rejected. “The evidence clearly shows that truck drivers are better rested and more alert after two nights of sleep than one night, and that unending 80-hour work weeks lead to driver fatigue and compromise highway safety,” said Foxx in a letter to senior members of the Senate and House appropriations committees.

Joan Claybrook, president emeritus of Public Citizen, a Washington-based watchdog group, says the rules are needed because of previous abuse of regulations that forced truckers to drive as much as 82 hours a week. “No one can drive 82 hours in a seven or eight-day period and not be tired,” said Claybrook. “Truckers don’t get enough rest. These provisions ensure they get a little more.”

ATA’s Bill Graves expressed concerns that special groups had deliberately misled Congress by distorting the safety record of the industry and pointing to tragic crashes that had nothing to do with the restart provision. “At the end of the day, self-appointed trucking industry critics have used deceptive tactics and outright lies to paint what, by any measure, is a reasonable resolution to a potentially serious safety problem,” he said. “These falsehoods and half-truths shouldn’t prevent Congress calling for a time out on these poorly researched and ill-conceived restrictions.”

He also called out the fact that the FMCSA itself has testified before the House THUD subcommittee that the agency’s field study did not address the “safety and congestion impacts of large trucks being forced onto highways during daytime rush hours, when children are on their way to school.”

The OOIDA also said that claims made by those opposed to the Collins Amendment saying that without HOS rules, truckers will otherwise work 80 hours or more per week are nothing more than misleading scare tactics. A membership survey conducted last year by the OOIDA revealed that 46 percent of respondents felt they were more fatigued since the new rules took effect in July of 2013, and 65 percent said they were earning less money.

Less time at home and more stress were also consequences of the restart rules, said many of the respondents. The OOIDA went on to say that suspending the rules until further research could be done was the approach the FMCSA should have taken the first time. It praised the work of Senator Collins as the best way to examine the issues.

 

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