December 5, 2014 5:50 PM, EST

DOT's Foxx Opposes HOS Suspension in Funding Bill

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urged the top congressional appropriators on Dec. 4 not to include a provision that would suspend a “34-hour restart” trucking regulation in a large funding bill currently under consideration.

“I am seriously concerned that this suspension will put lives at risk, as it will increase the maximum allowable work limits for truck drivers from an average of 70 hours per week to over 82,” Foxx wrote Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, respectively. “This regulatory provision (like all other aspects of the rule) was developed based on sound data and analysis.”

The provision, originally proposed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), would suspend for a year the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s requirement that drivers take off two consecutive periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. during a 34-hour restart. Collins’ proposal also would require FMCSA to provide Congress with a new study of the rule.

Collins and her supporters on Capitol Hill have been pressing Rogers and Mikulski to include the suspension in an expansive omnibus funding bill that would keep the federal government funded through the rest of the fiscal year. Negotiations on the omnibus are ongoing.

“Unfortunately, the inflammatory and inaccurate assertions in this letter are what we have come to expect from the Department of Transportation regarding the regulations governing truck drivers," said Collins' communications director, Kevin Kelley. "The letter is filled with rhetoric and not only ignores the department's own data, but also the peer review of its data."

Aside from the Obama administration, key congressional Democrats, including Mikulski, have opposed Collins’ efforts. This week, outside groups urged the administration to veto legislation if it included Collins’ provision.

“Americans do not want to share the road with bigger and longer trucks driven by overworked and overtired truckers,” Jackie Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said.

American Trucking Associations backs Collins’ efforts and the federation’s president and CEO Bill Graves responded by saying those groups have “deliberately misled Congress by distorting” the trucking industry’s safety record.

“This language does not, as critics suggest, eliminate use of this rest provision,” Graves wrote the top appropriators on Dec. 4. “Instead, it would suspend unwarranted restrictions on use of the provision while FMCSA conducts a mandated study of the net safety impacts of them.”

Congress has until Dec. 11 to approve an omnibus because a continuing resolution law that is funding the federal government expires on that date. Without an omnibus, Congress needs to advance a continuing resolution bill that funds agencies at current levels to avoid government shutdown.