June 24, 2013 4:00 AM, EDT

Editorial: Fix the HOS ‘Fixes’

This Editorial appears in the June 24 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

We are a week away from what we believe will turn out to be a monumental foul-up by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in regard to the government’s hours-of-service regulation.

As several witnesses before a House subcommittee meeting testified last week, FMCSA has made a $322 million miscalculation in its assessment of what the changes it has proposed to the HOS rule will actually cost.

And the biggest problem is that the FMCSA’s mistake initially will be paid for by the nation’s trucking industry, and then by all of us as consumers.

Unless Congress steps in or FMCSA has an unexpected and last-minute change of heart, as of July 1 drivers are going to lose a lot of flexibility because of alterations the agency has decided to make in the restart provision of HOS.

As of that date, the restart can only be used once in a seven-day period, and the downtime will have to include two periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

While FMCSA has calculated that this change will save the trucking industry about $133 million, a more dependable source — the American Transportation Research Institute — paints a very different picture.

A new ATRI study released just before the June 18 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit shows that the changes actually will cost the trucking industry $189 million a year. And there is no evidence to show that the changes will improve highway safety.

The problem, according to ATRI officials, is that FMCSA’s study involved only carriers that attracted the attention of enforcement agencies. ATRI’s research covered logbooks used by 40,000 drivers from a broad cross section of the industry.

While FMCSA’s study found that only a small percentage of drivers were using the restart — and mostly to squeeze in more driving hours — ATRI’s wider pool of drivers showed many more of them were using the provision and mostly to gain more flexibility in their driving hours and not to stretch their workdays.

Many members of the House subcommittee were sharply critical of FMCSA and urged the agency to delay implementing the changes until there was further study.

But Administrator Anne Ferro said FMCSA intended to proceed with the changes regardless of the criticism.

We need Congress to step in here and prevent a major hit to all of our pocketbooks and with no improvement in highway safety.