SPECIAL REPORT: Legislators challenge FMCSA’s new HOS rules

| 3/19/2004

U.S. legislators say the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new hours-of-service rule is unfair to short-haul trucking companies, who want to tweak hours-of-service requirements to fit their needs.

The issue has become the talk of the town – trucking radio show hosts, trucking company officials and drivers are all pondering the relative merit of adding some flexibility to the new hours-of-service rules for short-haul trucking.

In a letter to House transportation leaders, U.S. Rep. John Boozman, R-AR, and 57 other congressmen said, “As you prepare to mark up TEA-LU (the House version of the transportation bill), we respectfully request your support for including a provision allowing operators who return to their work reporting location at the end of each shift, otherwise known as short-haul operators, to operate under DOT regulations for hours of service in force prior to April 27, 2003.”

In a press release, Boozman said all drivers governed by the current rule should be able to occasionally log off for rest, a meal and other short breaks.

Congressional sources told Land Line Boozman was working March 19 with the House Transportation Committee on specific language to be included in an amendment. One issue is how long truckers can log off. Meanwhile, the committee wants to mark up the highway bill March 24, Land Line was told.

Boozman is making the effort at the request of Bentonville, AR-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Springdale, AR-based Tyson Foods Inc.

According to press accounts, Boozman said these companies do a lot of short-term trucking and would be pressured under new regulations to acquire more trucks and add more drivers.

Short-haul truckers make deliveries during a day's work and return home. The new rule says driver breaks must be counted as part of a consecutive 14-hour, on-duty shift. Other non-driving time, such as waiting for a truck to be loaded or unloaded, also counts against the 14 hours.

Boozman has said he wants flexibility for short-haul drivers who take frequent breaks during the day. He also wants to allow drivers to come off the clock within the 14-hour on-duty period in order to take a break.

Not so fast, some say

Not all are sure Boozman’s idea is good for the industry.

"We strongly oppose the current effort by various members of the goods and retail industries (short-haul operators) to seek changes to the newly enacted U.S. DOT hours-of-service regulations for truck and bus drivers," a statement from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance said.

"Several sectors of the industry have been pushing for various forms of relief from the new regulations. In large part, their arguments have been based on the fact that they are being forced to alter their operations. Frankly, we do not believe this is a credible position to take. The entire industry has had to change."

Stephen Campbell, executive director of the CVSA, recommended Congress take the following actions before proceeding with Boozman’s amendment:

  • Hold one or more hearings on hours of service;
  • Don’t permit any HOS changes to take effect with the reauthorization bill until CVSA has had time to evaluate the impact of the new rules; and
  • Instruct the FMCSA to create a formal process for evaluating the HOS regulations and a time frame for reporting back to Congress.

Campbell also said it’s important that U.S. HOS rules “harmonize” with Canada’s regulations.

"Canada is in the final stages of implementing changes to its HOS . Making additional changes at this time will compromise their process, add to the confusion at the border and may adversely affect the flow of goods between our two countries," he said.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.