Administration to Congress: Leave trucker schedule rules alone

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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief Anne Ferro is telling lawmakers that they should not roll back federal work scheduling rules for truck drivers.

The Department of Transportation rules, known as "restart" requirements, require that truck drivers be given at least 34 hours off-duty before they're allowed to start a new work week.

Under the rules, truck drivers would be limited to 11 hours in a work day and 70 hours in a week. They also have to be allowed to take at least one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shift.

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she is considering introducing an amendment to a broader funding bill for the Transportation Department that would roll back portions of the rules requiring that truck drivers take time off the job in the hours between 1 and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights.

Collins and the trucking industry have argued that the rules have had "unintended consequences" of resulting in more truckers being on the road during daytime hours, when traffic is heavier and trips take longer to complete.

Ferro said in a blog post on the Transportation website that the rules have resulted in less fatigue among truck drivers, however. 

"The current Hours-of-Service rule includes common sense, data-driven changes to reduce truck driver fatigue and improve safety by reducing the maximum average work week for truckers to 70 hours from 82 hours and requiring a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shift," she wrote.

"We carefully considered the public safety and health risks of long work hours, and solicited input from everyone who has a stake in this important issue, including victims’ advocates, truck drivers and companies," Ferro continued. "The result is a balanced Hours-of-Service rule with analysis showing that the changes save 19 lives and prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year. It also shows that the updated rule actually impacts less than 15 percent of the truck driving population — those drivers working the most extreme schedules."

The DOT rules currently require truck drivers to wait 168 hours, or one week, before they can start a new work week. Collins' amendment would also remove a requirement that a "restart" can be declared only once per week.

The truck driver scheduling rules have emerged as a contentious issue in the Department of Transportation's appropriations process.

Collins's amendment is likely to be attached to a $54 billion funding bill for the Transportation and the Housing and Urban Development Department that is commonly referred to in Washington as the THUD bill.

Safety advocates have accused Collins of attempting to conduct an end-run around the federal rule-making process to appease the trucking industry.

“I have whiplash — one month ago I was in the White House celebrating vital improvements to reduce truck driver fatigue, and now my own senator is using her power as Ranking Member on the THUD Appropriations Subcommittee to undo a rule which will result in more overly tired truckers on our roads," Daphne Izer, the founder of the group Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), said in a statement ahead of a Senate hearing on the THUD bill that took place on Tuesday.

"Twenty-five years of research and deliberations over the HOS [Hours of Service] rule — gone with the swish of her pen,” Izer continued.

Izer was honored last month by the White House as a "Transportation Champion of Change" for her advocacy for the more stringent scheduling rules. She founded PATT in 1994 after her son was killed in an accident involving a truck driver who fell asleep being the wheel.

A spokesman for Collins said Izer's group was "misrepresenting" the proposed amendment before the Maine senator even has a chance to file any additions to the Transportation and Housing funding legislation.

"It is unfortunate that some groups, before Sen. Collins’s amendment has even been drafted, are already misrepresenting her intentions regarding the new hours of service rules governing truck drivers," Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said in a statement provided to The Hill.

"For example, there is nothing in Sen. Collins’s proposal that would affect the mandatory half hour rest break, contrary to the erroneous assertions of one organization, nor would her amendment increase the number of hours that a truck driver can be behind the wheel each day," Kelley continued. "The fact is, neither truck drivers nor their customers nor Sen. Collins ever want to see an accident caused by driver fatigue — or by anything else — and it is unfair and inaccurate to imply otherwise."

Kelley said Collins is not planning to file anything that would totally eliminate the 34-hour restart gap for truck drivers.

For her part, Ferro said that it was best for lawmakers to leave the trucking rules alone.

"It’s important that we continue studying the impact of fatigue on commercial drivers and public safety to make our regulations even more effective," she wrote. "But this we know right now: suspending the current Hours-of-Service safety rules will expose families and drivers to greater risk every time they're on the road."