House Committee Advances Controversial Trucking Bill

May 24, 2016 by Clarissa Hawes

A House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a transportation spending plan that would roll back rules governing how much time truckers can drive before taking a mandatory rest period.

The $58.2 billion spending package would return regulations to the less restrictive requirements in force in December 2011.

The legislation, which still needs to be approved by the full House and reconciled with a Senate bill, also would prohibit states from requiring truck drivers to comply with state-enacted hours of service regulations, such as the paid meal and rest breaks that exist in California. Carriers would become exempt from penalties enforced by states if drivers are not allowed to take state-required breaks.

Congress should “quickly advance legislation” to give “professional truck drivers the flexibility and opportunity to take extended off-duty periods without restriction,” the American Trucking Associations said in a statement.

However, traffic safety advocacy groups called the proposed legislative changes “an assault on safety.”

“The latest efforts by the House and Senate are a few examples of this non-stop relentless attack by trucking interests these past three years to repeal reasonable safety rules that protect the public and truck drivers,” said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Gillan and other safety advocates observed that there was a 17 percent increase in deaths and a 28 percent increase in injuries from large truck crashes from 2009 to 2013. They say more needs to be done to keep tired truckers off the highways.

As these traffic safety groups urged the trucking industry to come up with solutions to combat driver fatigue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implemented a more stringent 34-hour restart rule, which went into effect in 2013.

The rule was based on the amount of on-duty time a driver can have in a rolling seven-day or eight-day period. Truckers are not allowed to drive after 60 hours in seven days if they didn’t work for a trucking company that operated a full seven days a week.

If they did work for a motor carrier that operated seven days of the week, a driver was not allowed to drive after 70 hours in eight days.

Once out of hours, the drivers had to take a so-called 34-hour restart – waiting 34 hours before driving again – and not do any overnight driving from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. for two nights.  In late 2014, Congress suspended the two overnight provisions in the rule.

The House legislation retains the 30-minute rest break requirement and removes the overnight requirements that were added when the new 34-hour restart rules went into effect in 2013.

“We have said since the broad framework of the current hours-of-service rules went into effect in 2004 – complying with these rules improves safety,” said Bill Graves, ATA’s president and chief executive officer. “The flexibility to take additional rest that the restart provided for a decade, and is providing now, allows drivers to get additional off-duty time and rest, and we shouldn’t be putting restrictions on that – certainly not ones that have been shown to push truck traffic into riskier daytime hours.”

The House bill stops FMCSA from moving forward with its proposed rulemaking on the Safety Fitness Determination rule until a review of the program and its ability to identify high-risk motor carriers is completed.

There are differences in the House and Senate legislation that still need to be ironed out.

Last week, the Senate has overwhelmingly passed its transportation funding bill. The bill protects the 34-hour restart and contains two provisions to change the hours of services rules for truck drivers.

This Senate bill also would add an additional 13 hours of on duty driving to 73 on-duty hours.

After watching the legislative tennis match being played over the trucking safety rules in Washington D.C., veteran trucker DuWayne Marshall feels like he and other drivers are the tennis ball.

“It’s like we are watching this match and the ball keeps getting whacked back and forth where we have a rule, then we don’t have a rule, then they change it, then they change it back,” Marshall told Trucks.com. “For us, we are caught in the middle. We want to be safe, but we also want to make money.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

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