HOS challenges set for Senate committee vote Thursday

fatigueUntitled-1A bill to fund the Department of Transportation next year has gotten the attention of the trucking industry, as a flurry of last minute letters and lobbying focuses on changes in the hours-of-service rule that went into effect 11 months ago.

The American Trucking Associations on Tuesday wrote to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee urging support for both a proposed Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Restart Study and a one-year suspension of two “unjustified restrictions” on the use of the HOS restart provision.

“Together, the undersigned organizations represent hundreds of thousands of businesses, including for-hire motor carriers, private carriers, professional drivers, manufacturers, retail businesses, shippers and consignees who have been suffering as a result of the new restart restrictions,” the ATA letter says. “These two new restrictions have placed economic hardships on thousands upon thousands of employers, as well as reducing drivers’ wages throughout the motor carrier industry.”

At issue are the requirement for two consecutive driver rest periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. during a 34-hour restart and the once-a-week restart restriction.

The plea, to Chairman Barbara Mikulski and Ranking Member Richard Shelby, along with Sens. Patty Murray and Susan Collins of the transportation subcommittee, comes ahead of a Thursday vote on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development budget package for the 2015 fiscal year.

The THUD subcommittee recommended the $54.4 billion discretionary budget authority to the full committee on Tuesday. A summary of the bill is here.

While the driver restart study, to be based on data derived from electronic logs, has received broad support from both trucking and safety groups, an anticipated amendment to suspend the restart is divisive.

The additional language is expected from Collins, a Maine Republican, and ATA on Tuesday advised its membership to contact senators on the Appropriations committee “ASAP!” to garner support for the HOS suspension.

Regulatory enforcement officials, however, have written committee members to voice concerns.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance “opposes any efforts to rescind or overturn any portion of the current HOS rules, or to defund their enforcement through the appropriations process,” the group said in its letter. “First, the Appropriations bill is not the appropriate place to be setting such policy. Any changes to federal law or regulations should go through the official process, including undergoing a full rulemaking.”

Additionally, CVSA contends:

  • Any rule change must be safety-related and science based “and we do not believe there is enough experience with the new rules to fully understand their impact, let alone to justify changes.”
  • Any changes to the current rules will have significant impacts on the states, and more training “ultimately takes inspectors out of the field where they have the greatest positive impact on improving commercial vehicle safety.”
  • Making constant changes creates uniformity and consistency problems with enforcement and will ultimately negatively impact data quality.

And Parents Against Tired Truckers founder Daphne Izer, less than one month after being recognized by the White House as a 2014 Transportation Champion of Change for her work to reduce truck driver fatigue and require electronic logging devices, said she was “outraged” to learn that Collins, her senator, would support rolling back the hours-of-service restart changes.

“I have whiplash,” Izer said in a Truck Safety Coalition statement. “Twenty-five years of research and deliberations over the HOS rule – gone with the swish of her pen.”

But ATA argues recent studies suggest the rule changes are putting more drivers on the road during more congested, and more risky, daytime hours.

“Properly researched and justified efforts to improve commercial motor vehicle safety garner widespread support in the industry,” ATA says. “However, the existing, unjustified rules are causing harm not just to trucking companies and drivers, but many, many others in the supply chain.”

The full House is expected to take up its version of the THUD appropriation next week.