WASHINGTON, D.C. – New hours of service regulations south of the border may survive, despite last summer’s appeal court veto, if the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) succeeds in its bid to get Congress to make the rules law. Truck West learned in March the department was hoping to get Congress to make the hours of service regulations statutory, meaning they would be more difficult to challenge in a court of appeal.
Making the regulations statutory, however, would also mean violators could be subject to criminal prosecution, not just losing their operating licences.
“DOT is exploring both tracks (regulatory and statutory),” confirmed DOT spokesman Jim Lewis, adding the proposed legislation could reach Congress as early as mid-March. But that would only be the beginning of the long process that would make the proposed rules law. The rules would be subject to both Senate and House of Representatives approval (the two bodies of Congress) and potentially an ongoing negotiating process if the two bodies differ on elements within the bill. In other words, the bill could be amended throughout the process.
Only when accepted and passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives would the bill finally go to the U.S. president to be made law.
And even then, the rules could be subject to further amendment, because DOT has written into its proposed legislation a clause allowing it to amend the rules in the future if need be.
“The aim of the proposal is to make the hours of service permanent and to clarify the concerns raised by the court,” said Lewis.
Indeed, the Department of Transportation has not ignored the concerns raised by last year’s court decision, which criticized the rulemakers for failing to show how the regulations would improve driver health and safety, and for failing to make the use of electronic onboard recorders (EOBRS) for enforcement purposes mandatory.
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration – attached to DOT – has since called for comment on the use of EOBRS, and has brought out a scientific review of the newly proposed hours of service by internationally recognized fatigue scientist Mark R. Rosekind.
According to Rosekind, “The FMCSA HOS rule provides a hard duty limit that is supported by scientific data and addresses the known physiological fatigue factor related to the number of continuous hours of wakefulness.” (To read the paper in its entirety, visit the American Trucking Associations Web site at www.truckline.com)
The FMCSA has also republished the rules for comment in the Federal Register. (The public comment period ended March 10.)
Hours of service rules, adopted in 2003, were challenged last summer by a group known as Public Citizen. After the appeal court vacated the rules, Congress ordered that they remain in force for a period of one year (until Sept. 1 of this year), during which the Department of Transportation would be given time to address the concerns raised by the court judgement.
The overturning of the rules, adopted in 2003, caused no little uproar in the trucking industry both north and south of the border among carriers who’d already spent significant time and monies on software and driver/dispatcher training to comply with the new rules.
Indeed, news of DOT’s latest bid to get HOS rules passed as law was welcomed by American Trucking Associations vice-president of safety, security and operations, Dave Osiecki.
“It would provide stability going forward for the industry and for the (DOT) agency itself,” said Osiecki.
“The agency already has a host of programs it’s working on, but it has been directing a lot of resources to dealing with this issue and the potential uncertainty surrounding it. Getting Congress to address it makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. The fact that things aren’t getting worse under these rules (since they were implemented), and in fact all indications are things are getting a little better, helps. This is what (HOS) is all about – it’s a safety rule – and the outcome since it was implemented has only been either neutral or positive depending on what you want to see.”
Indeed, DOT officials have already stated they believe the new rules will cut down on truck driver fatigue-related fatalities and crashes, by as much as 75 fatalities and 1,300 accidents per year.