By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the Dec. 24-31 print edition of Transport Topics.
Editor's Note: Because of the holidays, the Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 issues of TT are combined. The next issue will be published Jan. 7.
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s panel on surface transportation called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s revised hours-of-service rule “a sham,” while advocacy groups asked a federal court to once again overturn portions of the rule.
“The Bush administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to allow truckers to stay behind the wheel for longer periods of time than they should,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said during a Dec. 19 hearing. “Despite two unanimous federal court decisions . . . the FMCSA is going forward as if the court said nothing at all.”
Lautenberg, the sole member of the subcommittee to question witnesses, said he believed “the administration’s proposed rule is a sham, and so do our courts. They’ve said so twice.”
He added that since FMCSA has been “giving us reason to question their priorities and their commitment to safety, it is time for Congress to get involved.”
Earlier this month, FMCSA announced its interim final rule leaving in place the 11th hour of driving time and the 34-hour restart — provisions struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia earlier this year (12-17, p. 1).
On the same day as the hearing, Public Citizen, Parents Against Tired Truckers and several other advocacy groups asked a federal court to order FMCSA to issue a new rule that deleted the 11th hour and the 34-hour restart.
“It is difficult to draw any conclusion from [the court’s] order that the court did not intend to allow the two vacated provisions to remain in place,” the motion read, though the coalition conceded the court’s decision “did not definitively foreclose FMCSA from re-adopting the 11-hour driving limit and 34-hour restart.”
At the hearing on Capitol Hill, representatives of the trucking industry and FMCSA defended the agency’s interim rule.
American Trucking Associations “supports the rules because, simply put, they are working,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA’s vice president of safety, security and operations.
Osiecki pointed to government data that showed reductions in truck-related fatalities and injuries during 2006.
He called the regulation “a balanced set of rules” and said they “provide greater opportunity for daily rest” because they increase the minimum off-duty time by two hours, while cutting the maximum on-duty time by an hour.
Testifying on behalf of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Walter Krupski, owner of W. Krup Trucking, Stewartsville, N.J., said OOIDA supports “FMCSA in keeping both the 11th-hour-of-driving option and the 34-hour restart.”
“However, the hours-of-service rules should be more flexible to allow drivers to sleep when tired and to work when they are rested,” Krupski said. “The rules must encourage truck drivers to get off the road when they are tired and must not penalize them for doing so.”
FMCSA Administrator John Hill told Lautenberg that the interim rule, which was published in the Federal Register Dec. 17 after being released to reporters the previous week, was “a temporary measure to mitigate disruption of hours-of-service enforcement and compliance while we solicit public comment and prepare a final rule.”
The interim rule, Hill said, will maintain the status quo “while [FMCSA] gathers public comments . . . conducts a peer review of the analysis and considers the appropriate final rule that addresses the issues identified by the court.”
“FMCSA is fully committed to issuing a final rule in 2008,” he said.
Despite Hill’s comments, advocacy groups used the hearing to express their displeasure with the agency.
“FMCSA has failed to do its job by setting defective standards,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “Congress needs to act so the FMCSA will do its job.”
Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers, said the revised hours rule represented an “amazing display of bureaucratic arrogance.”
LaMont Byrd, director of safety and health for the Teamsters, said the union’s “review of the information has not convinced us to change our position” opposing the hours rules.
After the hearing, Lautenberg told Transport Topics he would “examine [the] possibility” of legislation to reduce the number of hours truckers may drive.
Stephen Gardner, a staff member for the subcommittee, said that any legislation would have to wait until the court issues a ruling on Public Citizen’s motion.
December 24, 2007 7:50 AM, EST