ATA leaders question LaHood’s argument for hours rule rewrite

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American Trucking Associations President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Graves and Chairman Dan England have questioned U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s contention in a letter to Congress that the administration is drafting a new hours-of-service proposal based on the “most comprehensive and up-to-date data and analysis.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) last week proposed to add language to the transportation appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) that would block the planned changes to the hours-of-service regulations. The measure, Senate Amendment 754, states that “none of the funds made available under this heading may be used to finalize, enforce, or implement the hours-of-service regulations proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on December 29, 2010.” The Senate is expected to consider the transportation appropriations bill within the next week or so.

LaHood sent a letter to Ayotte asking the senator to drop the measure. “The amendment would prevent the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from applying the most comprehensive and up-to-date data and analysis to the issue of driver fatigue and allowable hours of service,” LaHood wrote. “The final rule, if put in jeopardy, potentially undermines the entire regulatory process.”

In a letter to LaHood dated Friday, Oct. 21, Graves and England said the secretary’s contention was well off-base. “There is little or no comprehensive up-to-date evidence, data or science supporting FMCSA’s proposal,” ATA wrote. “FMCSA readily admitted it did not have sufficient data on which to base a driving time limit change, yet the agency argued for and stated it ‘currently favors’ reducing the limit.”

Graves and England, chairman of C.R. England Inc., Salt Lake City, said this wording is “a clever way of attempting to shift the burden of proof to the industry to justify the current drive-time limit.” ATA’s letter goes on to point out the flaws in FMCSA’s research and supporting arguments relating to fatigue’s involvement in large truck crashes.

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The pair also took issue with DOT’s contention that a delay in promulgating this flawed final rule would “create confusion and uncertainty” around the regulation, noting that “the record . . . is replete with industry and state law enforcement commentary on how much confusion and uncertainty the proposed changes would cause if finalized.”

Graves and England said ATA agreed with LaHood on the need to do everything possible to promote safety on our highways, but criticized the department for forgoing other more promising safety strategies in favor of an unnecessary revision of the hours-of-service rule.

“Too many other safety-critical opportunities have been lost . . . and we hope your department will stand behind the current rules and shift resources to other high-priority issues that will have a meaningful impact on highway safety – issues such as sleep disorders that are not even currently addressed by FMCSA guidelines, much less rules,” Graves and England wrote.