Good News for Truckers…Government May Relax H.O.S Cap

by Jana Ritter - Published: 6/03/2014

The 82-hour cap on a U.S. trucker’s workweek may have a chance of being eased by Congress. Implemented last July, the new H.O.S. rules came after a 15-year effort to reduce highway fatalities caused by drowsy long-haul drivers but has only received criticism from the trucking industry more than anything else.

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Now under an amendment set for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee tomorrow, the federal regulation that requires truckers to take an extended break at least twice a week will be suspended if all goes well. The suspension would force the U.S. Transportation Department to address some of the regulation’s fallout, said a spokesman for Senator Susan Collins, (the Maine Republican sponsoring the amendment). The rule, which set requirements for weekly rest breaks, forced more trucks onto the road during daylight hours when traffic is most congested.

“What has become clear during the past 11 months is that the new federal rules have presented some unintended consequences that may not be in the best interest of public safety, truck drivers and the businesses and customers who depend on their services,” Collins’ representative said. The Senate amendment, if passed, would be attached to a broad transportation funding bill that would have to be approved by the full Senate and later reconciled with appropriations legislation in the House of Representatives.

But Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration still stands by the regulations. “At the heart of this rule is an expectation to minimize the risk when tired drivers are behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound truck, the hours are exceedingly long”, she said. According to the Transportation Department truck crashes caused 3,912 fatalities in 2012, and the fatal-crash rate increased each year from 2009 through 2012, reversing a five-year trend. The hours-of-service regulation was expected to prevent 1,400 truck crashes a year, saving 19 lives and avoiding 560 injuries. The DOT also says that less than 15 percent of the industry is affected by the new rules.

However, the trucking industry and business groups that rely on trucks to deliver their goods disagree. They argue that FMCSA’s rest rules, which were made final in December 2011 and took effect July 1, 2013, have affected more companies than the agency projected. The trucking groups said they’re most concerned with the provision that forces drivers to rest during two overnight periods each week, taking them off the road from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. This “restart” requirement, which begins the clock ticking on a new workweek, was intended to make sure drivers got enough sleep.

While trucking companies have been complaining to Congress, the industry’s arguments don’t ring true to Daphne Izer, the founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers. She has pushed for tighter rest rules for over 20 years and founded PATT after her 17-year-old son, Jeff and three of his friends were killed by a fatigued truck driver. “This is fighting the battle all over again,” Izer said. “I’m mad, but I’m not doing this just to be angry. It’s hope for the future. It’s sparing others from going through what we’ve been through.”