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November 2, 2009 8:00 AM, EST

Abandoning the HOS Solution

This Editorial appears in the Nov. 2 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

For the past three years under federal hours-of-service regulations, fatal crashes involving heavy trucks have declined, last year reaching the lowest level since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping the records.

Yet, last week we learned that DOT has decided to abandon the current rules and restudy the complicated issues of driver work-and-rest cycles for another nine months, before submitting a new proposal to the White House.

That will begin a process that the agency said will take another 21 months to complete.

DOT has chosen to abandon an effective set of regulations, apparently believing it was likely to lose its third go-round with a coalition of “interest groups” that continue to battle today’s HOS, undeterred by the positive effect it has had on highway safety.

When DOT proposed new rules in 2003, trucking had several issues with them. But most of the industry fell into step in a bid to get the provisions implemented so that truckers could focus on their primary job — moving the freight the nation needs to thrive.

The industry, which often shows an amazing resilience and adaptability, took the new rules to heart. Fleets modified their business practices to comply. In return, the industry expected the regulators who had created the rules would defend them to the maximum.

Instead, DOT has confused and disappointed the industry by abandoning this mutual achievement.

It was disheartening to hear Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood say, in announcing his department’s decision to scuttle the HOS rule and create a new one, that “we believe that starting over and developing a rule that can help save lives is the smart thing to do.”

The fact, Mr. Secretary, is that your agency already has done that, and succeeded. That’s exactly what you’ve chosen to abandon.

Let’s hope that DOT’s next new HOS rules don’t reduce safety on our nation’s roads or make it impossible for the trucking industry to efficiently deliver the goods.

Meanwhile, trucking will continue to live by the rules DOT has set down, even if DOT doesn’t.