Hours of service hangs in limbo, for now

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 10/28/2011

Tomorrow was the original date the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had hoped to unveil the new hours-of-service regulations – but that’s not going to happen.

Anne Ferro, FMCSA administrator, was recently quoted in various media outlets hinting that the rule would not be ready by Oct. 28.

Given the process of arriving at a final regulation, it’s not a surprise.

Regulations, such as hours of service, must first be approved by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and then by the Office of Management and Budget. Neither of those reviews tend to happen quickly.

In fact, when FMCSA was shooting for its Oct. 28 goal date for publishing the final reg in the Federal Register, the plan was for OMB’s review to take nearly two months.

As of Oct. 27, the regulation has not even been submitted to OMB.

The next deadline facing the regulation is with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The case, which has led to the current revamping of the regs, was filed by Public Citizen, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition against FMCSA. The court has ordered that parties are to file motions to govern further proceedings in the case by Nov. 27.

In spite of the hours of service remaining under lock and key as it goes through the process, speculation continues to run wild and even has lawmakers wading into the HOS debate in an apparent attempt to sort HOS out once and for all.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, was apparently so concerned about some of the possible changes and the cost of compliance that could be in the final rule that she introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation Appropriations bill, which would block the Obama administration from implementing its proposed changes.

“My amendment would prevent the Administration from implementing these rules which, by DOT’s own admission, are cost-prohibitive and whose impact on safety is unclear,” Ayotte said in a press release about the amendment.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association thanked Ayotte’s efforts in keeping the current hours of service in place.

“OOIDA is opposed to the proposed changes because of the impact they would have on highway safety, driver flexibility, and the business operations of small-business truckers,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer wrote in a letter to Ayotte. “While not perfect, the current regulations have important provisions that allow truckers to maximize their time at home with families, choose when they take mandatory rest breaks, and ensure that challenges like difficulty finding parking have a minimum impact on their operations.

“We thank you for these efforts and want you to know small business truckers support your amendment.”

Ayotte’s amendment, however, drew pushback from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and another group of lawmakers.

LaHood asked Ayotte to not go forward with the amendment and allow the department to complete its “open and transparent rulemaking process designed to ensure that truck drivers are rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job.”

If the amendment does move forward, it will likely face opposition in Congress. A group of lawmakers including Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ; Sen. John Rockefeller, D-WV; and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, recently sent a letter to the administration urging they go forward with the changes.

The letter perpetrated an inaccurate statistic that claims 30 to 40 percent of all truck-involved wrecks are a result of fatigue. That inaccurate portrayal of the stat was most notably debunked by the author of the study it’s taken from at a recent National Transportation Safety Board forum.

In addition to the erroneous citation of the statistic, the trio of senators also paints the trucking industry as reckless and fatigued, urging the administration to press forward with the regulation and further limit truckers’ duty and driving time.

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