Hearing Brings Hours Rule to Center Stage

WASHINGTON — Last week, Federal Motor Safety Carrier administration chief Anne Ferro said that preliminary estimates show a rise in truck-related fatalities, from 3,360 in 2009 to "approaching 4,000" in 2010.

If that piece of information is verified, it still doesn’t change the downward trend in truck accidents over the years.

That trend is what supporters of the current hours rule are using as proof that the current rule is not detrimental to safety.

"It appears the current rules are working and strike a fair balance," said Rep. Jim Jordon, R-Ohio, chairman of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs.

Jordan and other Republicans claimed that the pending rewrite of the rule is an example of excessive government regulation, while Democrats maintained that safety deserves as much consideration as cost.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the shorter work hours in the proposed rule do not mean that drivers will get their proper rest.

"Nothing in this regulation is going to guarantee that the driver is going to go to bed and stay there for eight hours," Issa said. "Drivers can meet all the requirements of the regulation and still not be fit."

Democrat Bruce Braley of Iowa said that maybe the reason the trucking industry cannot find enough qualified drivers in a time of 9 percent unemployment is because the industry’s workplace conditions and pay do not attract would-be drivers. "One reason may be the hours of service requirement," he said.

A congressional source, reported truckinginfo.com, said the hearing is not likely to lead to any legislative action. It does, however, raise the issue of HOS as the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) considers the FMCSA proposed changes.

Details of the changes are under wraps until the OMB has finalized its review, but based on what the FMSCA proposed in earlier stages, the trucking industry is on high alert.

The FMSCA said it wants to cut driving time from 11 to 10 hours a day, as well as giving drivers a one-hour break during the day, limiting the duty time within the 14-hour driving window to 13 hours.

The other big change would modify the 34-hour restart to include two periods between midnight and 6 a.m., to be used only once a week.

Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don’t

The trucking and shipping industry say that these changes would not improve safety and add significant cost to doing business. The American Trucking Association is posed to sue if the FMSCA makes the changes.

The safety advocacy folks are also prepared to reinstate its suit against the current rules if the agency does not make the changes.

Ferro told the panel that the FMSCA is focused on reducing excessively long work hours that increase the risk of fatigue-related crashes and long-term health problems for drivers.

"A rule cannot ensure that drivers will be rested, but it can ensure that they have enough time off to obtain adequate rest on a daily and weekly basis," she said.

For more on the hearings, check out our sister publication over at truckinginfo.com.

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