Leadership

Trucking Associations Push Congress on Fatigue Rules

Trade groups in the trucking industry are supporting an amendment to a major spending bill that would suspend two rules the industry finds particularly troublesome in the driver-fatigue regulations implemented last year.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Tuesday night’s announced agreement on the omnibus spending package.

Restrictions designed to reduce truck driver fatigue, widely hailed by safety advocates, went into effect in July 2013.

Citing concerns about jobs, productivity, and driver frustration, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) initially sued the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in an effort to block the rules. Now, roughly a year and a half later, ATA and other trucking industry associations are taking a different approach to roll back the hours-of-service rules.

With Congress facing a December 11 deadline to pass an appropriations bill and prevent a government shutdown, it’s likely that regulatory rollback outlined in an amendment introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) will get through after members of Congress came to an agreement on the bill Tuesday night.

But the amendment in the omnibus spending bill is not going unnoticed or unchallenged. More details:

About the amendment: Collins’ amendment, which is currently a part of the agreed-upon omnibus bill, would suspend two key requirements of the driver-fatigue restrictions: It would remove the once-per-week limit on the use of the 34-hour restart (a rest period for drivers who log more than 70 hours on the road per week) and the requirement that two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods be included in a restart period. The amendment would also require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to provide more research before reinstating the rules.

A challenging context: The rollback effort, which is also backed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Truckload Carriers Association, comes despite public opinion headed in the other direction: A recent survey by the Truck Safety Coalition and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety found that 80 percent of people surveyed opposed any loosening of the current rules. The two groups say public awareness of the issue increased after a mid-June crash in which comedian Tracy Morgan suffered life-threatening injuries when his vehicle was hit by a truck driver who hadn’t slept in over 24 hours.

Seeking flexibility: In a news release Saturday, ATA officials said safety advocates were mischaracterizing their fight against the amendment. “This isn’t a rider being added in the middle of the night at the eleventh hour, as some would have the public believe. This reasonable solution allows the government to do the research it should have done ahead of time and gives the industry the flexibility thousands of fleets and millions of drivers are pleading for,” ATA CEO Bill Graves said.

A high-ranking critic: But that argument doesn’t hold water with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who argued that the research behind the rules is sound and that Congress should not tamper with them. “The evidence clearly shows that truck drivers are better rested and more alert after two nights of sleep than one night, and that unending 80-hour work weeks lead to driver fatigue and compromise highway safety,” Foxx said in a letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees considering the rider, according to Bloomberg.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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