U.S. House bill offers two-hour off-duty break

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A bill that would allow truckers up to two hours off-duty time during their work day is now in a U.S. House committee and has picked up 20 co-sponsors.

U.S. Rep. John Boozman introduced H.R. 623, which was referred Feb. 8 to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Arkansas Republican’s bill comes on the heels of the Bush administration’s introduction of legislation that would write the current hours-of-service regulations into statutory law and limit federal control over driver health.

Boozman’s bill, which has garnered bipartisan support, would permit drivers a two-hour maximum break for food or rest without counting it as part of the 14-hour work day.

The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration is revisiting the hours-of-service rule after it was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which argued it failed to consider the effects on driver health.

“While FMCSA may have thought that giving the drivers more consecutive rest time would be beneficial, the reality is, the rule has actually forced them to push harder to complete their workload,” Boozman said in a statement. “This makes for an unnecessary strain on truckers and creates more incidents of driver fatigue.”

Boozman said his bill was designed to prompt the Transportation Committee to revisit the issue while considering Bush’s highway bill. “In an industry where we are experiencing a scarcity of drivers, and in an environment where we are trying to increase safety, allowing optional voluntary time for rest breaks is the right thing to do,” he said.

Bush’s bill would have Congress adopt the hours-of-service rule implemented a year ago but allow the FMCSA to alter it in the future through the normal rulemaking process. It also would limit the agency’s power over driver health to conditions that would cause death or serious injury.

Boozman’s district in north central Arkansas is home to trucking giant J.B. Hunt and large private fleets such as Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods.