Transportation bill gets Clinton’s signature
Lawmakers agree todelay implementation of HOS but not the process

Congress sent President Clinton a $58 billion transportation package Oct. 13. The transportation bill was approved 344-50 by the House and 78-10 by Senate members. President Clinton signed the measure, one of 13 annual spending bills, for the new 2001 fiscal year.

Earlier in October, conferees from the U.S. House and Senate (appointed to negotiate the transportation spending bill for fiscal year 2001) agreed to include a general provision that would halt implementation of new hours-of-service rules before October of next year. While the provision prohibits the Department of Transportation from implementing a final hours-of-service rulemaking during fiscal year 2001, the department will be allowed to proceed with all stages of the rulemaking except adoption of a final rule.

The DOT will continue to collect specific data and seek comments from industry stakeholders to assist the agency in crafting a workable revision of the current hours-of-service rules. OOIDA supports the provision as it allows the industry to go forward with the effort to craft workable changes.

The legislation also contained a new drunken driving standard for Americans. Beginning in 2004, the legislation would gradually withhold up to 8 percent of federal highway funds from states that fail to drop their drunken driving standard to 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. Thirty-one states define drunken driving as 0.10 percent blood alcohol content.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia already have 0.08 laws, and in Massachusetts a level of 0.08 is considered evidence but not proof of impairment.

Industry leaders convene for HOS roundtable discussions

While the Congress was working toward a delay in HOS implementation, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) officials continued the rulemaking process.

Calling on leaders from the trucking industry and safety groups to meet face-to-face on the hours-of-service issue, Slater and FMCSA officials hosted a series of meetings during late September and early October. The agency called the roundtables an opportunity for stakeholders to focus collectively on specific topics and to discuss the reasons and provide supporting documentation for their positions.

Julie Cirillo, FMCSA acting assistant administrator (assisted by FMCSA's Regulatory Ombudsman, Nancy Bennett) acted as moderator. Administration spokesman Dave Longo said the roundtables were not negotiating sessions, but dialogue, and a venue for receiving additional facts and material from industry "stakeholders" that support or oppose positions on the current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Cirillo did not ask the participants to reach consensus on any issue.

The first of the roundtable meetings was held Sept. 25-26 in Chevy Chase, MD. The topics were fatigue research, economic impacts of revising the HOS rules and enforcement. The remaining meetings were held Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 5-6 in Washington, DC. OOIDA's Rick Craig attended the Sept. 28-29 meeting, where the topics were sleeper berth requirements, communications during rest periods, end of workweek rest periods and hours of work permitted each day. In the discussion on the subject of truckers breaking the rules on hours permitted each day, Craig told FMCSA they should focus on an economically viable rule. "If it's fair, truckers will comply."

Rest area issues were not a part of the proceedings.

Jim Johnston, president of OOIDA, participated in the third meeting in which the topics were categories of carrier operations, electronic on-board recorders and allowable exemptions. Johnston promised legal action if DOT attempts to go forward with the implementation of a rule mandating the "black box" in CMVs. The documentation provided by Johnston was a preliminary legal brief, which challenges the constitutionality of electronic surveillance of commercial vehicle drivers for the purpose of law enforcement.

FMCSA says the roundtable discussions were an "ongoing commitment to involve all stakeholders in the rulemaking process," which the agency says has included issuing an ANPRM; considering negotiated rulemaking; publishing the NPRM; holding extensive public hearings/meetings across the country; and extending the public comment period through Dec. 15, 2000.

The first step FMCSA says it will take, at the end of the Dec. 15 comment period, will be to evaluate all the information, comments and data submitted to the docket. FMCSA could then decide to finalize all or part of its proposal, issue a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking on some or all aspects of the proposal, or it could fashion additional information-gathering opportunities. So, the good news is - no final rule for at least a year. "And we probably won't hear much more about it until spring," says Johnston.