ARLINGTON, Va. – The American Trucking Association (ATA) is convinced it is just a matter of time before the hours of service (HoS) restart rule becomes law.
As reported recently, the US Senate Appropriations Committee voted (in a count of 21 to 9) to roll back the current regulations regarding when a driver can hit the restart button and when that driver can get back on the road after that restart period. Since then, however, a deadly accident between a Wal-Mart truck driver and a passenger vehicle carrying comedian Tracy Morgan and his entourage, focused the public’s attention on the trucking industry’s labour practices, and that attention has been far from favourable.
Given the public outcry about drivers going too long without sleep—not to mention some in the industry, including the Teamsters, arguing that weakening the restart rules will put drivers in harm’s way—there are legitimate questions to be asked about the future of the HoS legislation.
At an ATA press conference, held specifically to address those questions, the association explained why it believes the restart rules will be adopted. According to ATA president and CEO Bill Graves, the amount of work and time the association has devoted to explaining its position on the rules to both the House of Representatives and the Senate will yield a positive result.
“We had a lot of conversation early on with key members in the House, and in fact, had a great deal of support for essentially the same language that is now part of the Senate bill. The political dynamic is just a little bit different over on the House side. It had nothing to do with the merits of our issue but simply managing the House version of this appropriations bill.
“What was agreed to was that we would go and seek success on the Senate side and the House would basically agree to language and an acknowledgement of the inadequacies and shortcomings of this provision of hours of service, and married up in conference committee, the House indicated a willingness to just yield or acknowledge a willingness to accommodate the language from the Senate side of the bill. We worked the House side as well. This is not just a Senate initiative. We are working both on a dual track strategy, with the target of pairing the two of them together in conference.”
(In the US system both the Senate and the House of Representatives develop their own interpretations of an appropriations bill. Once each body has passed its own version, a bi-partisan committee made up from both Senate and House members holds negotiations to merge the two bills. The merged bill is then sent for a final vote by both bodies, and before it can be signed by the president it must be passed by both the House and the Senate.)
While Graves is confident in the behind-the-scenes work the ATA has done to get the changes made to the restart rule, public opinion can be a powerful force on politicians. Currently, the general consensus is that the public believes truckers aren’t getting enough sleep and are working too many hours per week, but Graves said that impression won’t impede passage of the legislation, and neither will the Teamsters asking legislators to reconsider the rules’ change.
“The trucking industry and the rules that govern it are very complicated. A big part of our problem has been educating people to understand what hours of service and restarts are. It is a very complicated issue, therefore it has been difficult,” he said.
“It’s astounding to me that organizations that allege to have a concern about highway safety are in fact, arguing in favour of something that forces commercial traffic back into the flow of traffic shortly after 5:00 AM on any given day of the week. If anything, we are arguing—and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) admitted to—not having studied the safety implications of that.
“I think the average citizen starts to understand the most unsafe time of the day to drive is during the daylight hours, and what the FMCSA has done is taken away some of our flexibility to be on the road at times other than that. So while there is an emotional reaction from some, we still believe the facts happen to be on our side.”
Among the facts the ATA says strength its case is the relatively low numbers of fatigue-based fatal crashes.
“In 2012, unfortunately, there were almost 34,000 fatalities on this nation’s roads throughout the country. FMCSA attributes approximately 4,000 of those commercial vehicles. And FMCSA finds that in about 30% of those cases, the commercial vehicle was at fault,” said Graves.
“Of those, FMCSA finds Class 8 to be responsible for about 70% of those. So we have a universe of about 840 fatalities in 2012 of that were the fault of a commercial vehicle of size Class 8.
“FMCSA also finds fatigue is the principle factor in somewhere between 7 and 15% of fatality accidents. So we are talking about a universe of somewhere between 75 and 100 of the fatal accidents of the 34,000 in 2012 that were the responsibility of a Class 8 vehicle where fatigue was the principle factor.”
Graves added that when the most recent restart rule was implemented, the FMCSA predicted 19 lives would be saved as a result of that rule. But, he added, “under questioning during Congressional hearings, the agency admitted they had done no research on whether or not there were any safety consequences of pushing commercial vehicle traffic back out onto the nation’s highways after 5:00 AM on any given day.
“We think that in and of itself is a fatal flaw in the development and roll out of this rule.”
More facts were provided during the press conference by Rebecca Brewster, president and CEO of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), also took part in the press conference. According to Brewster, under the current HoS rules tired drives are spending longer time going nowhere.
She said 53% of drivers asked reported spending more time sitting in congested traffic, and 66% of drivers saying they experienced higher levels of fatigue after the implementation of the HoS rule changes.
Brewster also added that ATRI research shows a distinct difference in the amount of drivers operating near the upper limit of their maximum hour than FMCSA numbers do. She said the FMCSA reports that based on logs from over 1,000 drivers, 15% of the drivers were operating at 70 or more hours per week. ATRI data, based on 14,000 records, found 38 drivers—or less than 1%—operating at those higher extremes.