Bid to suspend truck driver restart rule advances in Senate

Posted on 6/6/2014 by SuperUser Account

The U.S. trucking industry today scored a rare victory against new federal hours of service rules after a Senate committee voted to suspend the revised restart provision — the most onerous part of new regulation — for a year.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. trucking industry today scored a rare victory against new federal hours of service rules after a Senate committee voted to suspend the revised restart provision — the most onerous part of new regulation — for a year.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would suspend the requirement that drivers include two 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. periods in their 34-hour restart and only take a restart once within a week. That requirement, which took effect nearly a year ago, has cut into driver productivity as some shippers struggle to find truckload capacity. Depending on when they went off-duty, the restart rule can push restarts beyond 48 hours, taking away driver time spent behind the wheel.

“America expects its freight to be moved, and these new rules prevent some drivers from taking a restart over the weekend, and as a result, they need to take their restart midweek, leading to shipping delays and costs,” American Trucking Associations Chairman Phil Byrd said in a statement.

For truck drivers taking a restart over the weekend, the existing regulation “dumps concentrated amounts of trucks” on the highways 5 a.m. Monday, when many adults head to work and children make their way to school, said Byrd, president of Charleston, S.C.-based Bulldog Hiway Express.

If the rule is suspended, drivers would be able to start a new workweek 34 hours after going off-duty, as they were able to do before the revised HOS rules took effect last July 1. That means a truck driver who ends his or her workweek at 2 a.m. Saturday would be able to start a new week at 12 p.m. Sunday, 34 hours later, rather than 5 a.m. Monday.

Collins argued that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration research didn’t convincingly show the revised restart would improve highway safety, a criticism shared by the ATA, the largest U.S. trucking lobby force. More specifically, Collins noted that FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro testified to Congress last month that the HOS field study didn’t address the impact the rules had on safety and congestion by “forcing” trucks on the road during daytime rush hours, when children head to school. That the restart rule tells truck drivers when to take a rest period irked some senators, including Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. She said the idea of the federal  government telling drivers when to sleep provoked a “visceral reaction” out of her.

For the revised restart provision to be suspended, the Senate amendment to a fiscal 2015 transportation funding bill still has to approved by the entire chamber and have the language adopted following a conference of bills with the House.

Despite the long path ahead, the passage of the amendment by a 2-to-1 margin in the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations committee suggests the push to repeal the revised restart has traction. Attempts to soften or repeal the HOS rules have been common in the House and led nowhere, but that a bipartisan group of senators is taking up the cause is another sign the amendment might connect.

Proponents have been careful to pitch the proposed change as a temporary action needed until more research is available, not a complete revamp or scrapping of the new regulation. Still, the amendment has already drawn the ire of safety groups and a reiteration of support for the existing rules from Ferro herself.

“We carefully consideredthe public safety and health risks of long work hours, and solicited input from everyone who has a stake in this important issue, including victims’ advocates, truck drivers and companies,” Ferro wrote on the DOT website. “The result is a balanced hours of service rule with analysis showing that the changes save 19 lives and prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year.”

The blog posted by Ferro titled, “Congress Shouldn’t Roll Safety; the Steps We’re Taking to Keep Tried Truckers Off the Road,” doesn’t pull any emotional punches. The blog highlights fatal accidents caused by tired truck drivers and includes graphic photos.

The amendment would require the FMCSA to study the impact the restart provision has had on truck operations, highway safety, health and fatigue and provide results to Congress within a year. The FMCSA study would also be reviewed by the Department of Transportation Inspector General, which would then report its findings to the House and Senate committees on appropriations.

 Source: JOC.com                                                                                                                    Contact Mark Szakonyi at mszakonyi@joc.com and follow him on Twitter at @szakonyi_joc

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