Congress Puts Brakes On HOS Rules for Truck Driversby Jana Ritter - Published: 12/12/2016
Before Trump has even taken office, trucking industry reps are already celebrating their first triumphant victory after Republican lawmakers effectively blocked Obama's federal HOS rules aimed at keeping tired truck drivers off the roads.
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Republicans added a provision to a must-pass government-spending bill, which effectively suspends regulations issued by the Obama administration requiring truckers to take two nights off the job if they take only the minimum break before starting a new workweek. In July 2013, the Obama Administration restricted the use of the restart to only once every 168 hours and required that the restart period include two overnight stretches between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. The industry objected and argued that the impact of these changes would increase early morning traffic congestion and result in more crashes. The new regulations were then suspended in 2014 pending the results of a Department of Transportation study.
“These rules, put forward based on a very limited laboratory sleep study, could have had serious negative safety impacts,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “The restart is an important tool for drivers, not to maximize driving time, but to have the flexibility to maximize off-duty time and time at home, and we are pleased that drivers will continue to have unrestricted access to it.”
The ATA said they are pleased with Congress for passing this Continuing Resolution, and fixing the language to permanently fix the hours-of-service restart. Spears says the language in the C.R. should, restore the restart rules to what they were before July 2013. “Thanks to hard work by Congressional leaders of both parties and in both chambers, we are one step closer to having an hours-of-service restart rule that makes sense and puts safety first.” President Obama is now is expected to sign the provision into law.
Many truck drivers such as George Lafferty are happy about the news as well.
“I don’t see how the government can tell you when to sleep and when not to,” said Lafferty. “A driver should know when he’s fatigued or not,” he said. “If you’re fatigued, take a half-hour, hour nap.” However, there are other drivers such as Bill Varnado who says he prefers the mandated sleep requirements because it helps to ensure drivers are well rested and protected from companies that often pressure drivers to stay on the road when they’re tired.
Safety advocates are concerned that this is only the start of what’s to come when the Republicans take office in January. “Unfortunately, it’s going to be an open season on safety in this coming Congress,” warns Jim Hall, who was chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration.
Safety advocate Joan Claybrook also fears that shippers and segments of the trucking industry will also begin pushing for increasing the weight limit on trucks to more than 90,000 pounds and increasing the length of individual trailers in double-trailer combinations from 28 feet to 33 feet. “It’s going to be very tough because the companies really care about the cost. They don’t care about the safety no matter what they say,” says Claybrook.