Hours of Service Regulations: How Many Hours Will Truck Drivers Be Allowed to Drive Without a Break on U.S. Roads? HOS Safety vs. Profits Fight in D.C.

Hours of Service Regulations: How Many Hours Will Truck Drivers Be Allowed to Drive Without a Break on U.S. Roads? HOS Safety vs. Profits Fight in D.C.

Hours of Service (HOS) regulations are designed to make American roadways safer for everyone: truck drivers and those with whom they share the roads.  Question is: how long should a truck driver be allowed to drive his big rig semi truck before he’s legally required to pull over and get some rest? Hours of service regulations set that limit, but right now there’s a lot of debate up in Washington D.C. on what that number should be. Next week (October 28, 2011) the new HOS Regulations set up by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last December are set to become the law of the land.  Unless Congress blocks them — which is what Congress is trying to do.  (Read the FMCSA chart of the present HOS regulations and the proposed HOS regulations here.) President Obama vs. Congress on HOS Rules The Obama administration has proposed HOS regulations for truck drivers which the Republican Congressional leaders (House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)) counter will raise trucking industry costs and therefore, harm the U.S. economy. The two congressmen wrote a letter to President Obama, estimating “$1 billion in regulatory burden,” resulting from the White House’s HOS proposal.  This is on top of the letter sent to the White House by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (which we posted here a few weeks back). The White House (via its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) is proposing to cut 1 hour off the current HOS regulations, making truck drivers across the country drive 1 hour less on a trip before they stop for a break.  One hour. Senate Legislation Introduced To Keep HOS Regulations As They Are: No Obama Decrease This week, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) introduced proposed legislation to the U.S. Senate that would block the the F.M.C.S.A. from implementing its new HOS rule. The proposal is part of a funding bill stating “… none of the funds made available under this heading may be used to finalize, enforce, or implement the Hours of Service regulations….” From Senator Kelly Ayotte’s press release on her proposal (full text here), note that this is getting the support of the trucking industry (of course):

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Transportation Appropriations bill that would block the Obama Administration from implementing its proposed changes for hours-of-service rules for commercial truck drivers. Trucking businesses across the country, including those in New Hampshire, have expressed serious concerns about the negative impact the proposed changes could have on the trucking industry, particularly on small business truckers. The Administration’s proposed changes could cause significant losses in productivity and increased consumer costs for goods and services, at a time when the economy is still weak. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the proposed changes fail the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) own cost-benefit analysis and could result in productivity losses in the range of $2 billion annually. “This is yet another heavy-handed federal regulation that would disrupt business operations and increase costs for the trucking industry and consumers, and New Hampshire’s truckers are rightfully concerned about the impact of these changes,” said Senator Ayotte, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “My amendment would prevent the Administration from implementing these rules which, by DOT’s own admission, are cost-prohibitive and whose impact on safety is unclear.” Robert Sculley, President of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association said, “I commend Senator Ayotte for her initiative to stop unnecessary government interference in the commercial motor carrier industry. Our industry has never been safer. The proposed new rules by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will increase costs and cause delays in deliveries and service. It is critically important that we continue to operate under the current Federal guidelines and we applaud Senator Ayotte in her efforts in this area. Not only will truck owners and operators feel the brunt of additional cost if this change takes place, but so will all New Hampshire residents as almost all goods and services are delivered by truck in New Hampshire. While there is never a good time to unnecessarily increase costs, this could not be a worse time as our country and state struggle to recover from the ongoing economic recession.” The current rules, in effect since 2003, have successfully reduced crash-related injuries and fatalities, despite truck mileage increasing by 10 billion miles. The FMCSA’s proposed changes would reduce a driver’s maximum daily driving time from 11 hours to 10 hours and reduce the on-duty “work day” from 14 hours to 13 hours. The proposed rule change also would impose new restrictions on the minimum “34-hour restart,” which allows drivers to work more weekly hours if they take 34 consecutive hours off, making use of the minimum period impossible. The changes also fail to account for delays in picking up cargo, known as “detention time.” Senator Ayotte wrote to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in February and June urging DOT not to implement the new rules changes. Senator Ayotte’s amendment is supported by the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, the American Trucking Association, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

What’s The Big Deal? The FMCSA Explains Reasons for the New Regulations The new HOS regulations have not been proposed, vetted, and implemented to be effective next week in a vacuum.  The federal agency spent time gathering information from all sides and explains is reasons for making these changes in a news release published awhile back:

“A fatigued driver has no place behind the wheel of a large commercial truck,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We are committed to an hours-of-service rule that will help create an environment where commercial truck drivers are rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job.” The publication of this proposed rule coincides with the timeframe established in a court settlement agreement that requires FMCSA to publish a final HOS rule by July 26, 2011. This new HOS proposal would retain the “34-hour restart” provision allowing drivers to restart the clock on their weekly 60 or 70 hours by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. However, the restart period would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6:00 a.m. Drivers would be allowed to use this restart only once during a seven-day period. Additionally the proposal would require commercial truck drivers to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday, and to complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for at least a one hour break. It also leaves open for comment whether drivers should be limited to 10 or 11 hours of daily driving time, although FMCSA currently favors a 10-hour limit. “In January, we began this rulemaking process by hosting five public listening sessions with stakeholders across the country,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “This proposed rule provides another opportunity for the public to weigh in on a safety issue that impacts everyone on our roadways.” Driving hours are regulated by federal HOS rules, which are designed to prevent commercial vehicle-related crashes and fatalities by prescribing on-duty and rest periods for drivers. Commercial truck drivers who violate this proposed rule would face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Trucking companies that allow their drivers to violate the proposal’s driving limits would face penalties of up to $11,000 for each offense. Other key provisions include the option of extending a driver’s daily shift to 16 hours twice a week to accommodate for issues such as loading and unloading at terminals or ports, and allowing drivers to count some time spent parked in their trucks toward off-duty hours.

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