Obama’s HOS Failure

This Editorial appears in the Jan. 3 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

The Obama administration’s proposed rewrite of the federal hours-of-service rule for drivers is a misguided failure that seems certain to make the nation’s roadways less safe than they are today.

It is clear from reading the proposal, which was made public on Dec. 23, that politics and political expediency were a far greater driving force in the creation of this new rule than were concerns about the nation’s highway safety or economic development.

As ATA President Bill Graves told the press after the rule was released, it is “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking’s productivity.”

And as we have said time and again, the existing HOS rule has led to the best safety results in history. Truck-involved highway fatalities have hit new lows the past two years and highway deaths are down 33% from 2003’s level.

So why in the world would the White House and the Department of Transportation tinker with this rule?

Again, we turn to ATA’s Graves: “When viewed against trucking’s sterling safety record, it’s plain that the Obama administration’s willingness to break something that’s not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health.”

On a couple of key points, the proposal is at odds with past positions that DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has taken on those very points. It will be interesting to hear how the agency tries to wiggle out of the conflicts between what it said yesterday and what it says today.

For example, while FMCSA cited driver-health concerns as one of its primary factors in making the proposed changes, over the past five years that same agency has consistently provided data showing that the current rule has had no adverse impact on driver health.

Also in the past, FMCSA has objected to two of the changes it is now proposing by stating that the 11th hour of driving has had no adverse impact on safety or  driver fatigue and that the 34-hour restart has actually helped drivers manage their circadian rhythms.

It will also be interesting to see FMCSA’s justification for eliminating the 11th driving hour — something we believe it will ultimately do, although its proposal waffles on this important point — which the agency warned would cost trucking, and the nation’s consumers, $2.2 billion a year.

To say that the trucking industry is disappointed with the proposal is far too tame: This proposal is awful.

And you can be sure that the trucking industry will go all out to make sure this proposal does not get implemented as it is currently written.