By Keith Laing - 06/06/14 11:25 AM EDT
A major trucking group is calling for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief Anne Ferro to resign.
The group accused Ferro of not giving fair treatment to truck drivers in a fight over regulations that require truckers to be given time off-duty during specific hours of the night.
Ferro's agency opposed an effort in Congress this week to roll back rules requiring the time off.
The independent drivers' association said Friday that it had lost confidence in Ferro because of the disagreement about the work scheduling rules.
“Recent comments by Administrator Anne Ferro, combined with actions by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), have made it clear to most truckers on the road and OOIDA’s Board of Directors that they can no longer be assured of respect from and fair treatment by the Administrator and the agency she leads,” OOIDA President Jim Johnston wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
“These statements and actions … demonstrate a clear bias against truckers and the trucking industry,” Johnston continued. “On behalf of the OOIDA’s Board of Directors I am writing to express our disappointment in Administrator Anne Ferro’s failed leadership of the FMCSA. I respectfully request that you take immediate action to remedy this situation.”
At issue is a Department of Transportation requirement that truck drivers take breaks between 1 and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights before they can work again. The trucking industry had argued that the rules resulted in drivers having to take two full days off in some cases before they could work again.
An amendment sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to undo the regulation was approved on Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Truck drivers are still required to take 34 hours off between work weeks, despite the amendment’s passage. They also have to abide by a host of other rules such as limiting themselves to an 11-hour work day and working no more than 70 hours per week.
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 remove the requirement that a "restart" can be declared only once per week.
Ferro and other transportation officials in the Obama administration had urged Congress to leave the trucker scheduling rules alone.
Ferro said in a blog post on the DOT website before the Senate vote that the rules were extensively researched and would make roads safer for trucker and automobile drivers.
"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," she wrote.
"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," Ferro continued. "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."
Johnston said Friday that “the blog post is part of a pattern of troubling statements Ms. Ferro has made in regards to the trucking industry.
“Recent statements by the administrator, especially a June 3, 2014 posting on the Department’s official blog “Fast Lane” spelled out clearly that FMCSA, and the Administrator herself, view truckers not as committed professionals but as accidents waiting to happen, and that the only way to prevent these accidents is through more rules, more enforcement, and the continued treatment of truckers as a whole as if they are criminally negligent,” Johnston said.
“Her posting uses snippets of isolated accidents—tragedies yes, but situations that need far more explanation and context to understand than a few simple lines on a website—to oppose a regulation that OOIDA members and others within trucking have clearly stated have a demonstratively negative impact on their health, their incomes, their ability to spend time with their families, and on the safety of the driving public,” he continued.
Johnston concluded that the dust up over the trucker scheduling rules have caused his association to lose “confidence in Administrator Ferro’s ability to conduct her responsibilities (which go far beyond simply regulating and enforcing truck safety rules and regulations) effectively.
“It is the responsibility of FMCSA to promote highway safety with regard to all highway users, including truck drivers and other operators of commercial motor vehicles. Instead, Administrator Ferro has waded into the murky waters of demagoguery against truck drivers,” he wrote.
“Administrator Ferro’s failure to perform her duties impartially, her failure to lead her agency to fulfill Congressional mandates, and her failure to responsibly prioritize the agency’s tasks has left the OOIDA Board of Directors no choice but to unanimously vote in favor of a call for Administrator Ferro’s resignation, and for you to begin an immediate search for a new FMCSA Administrator who will approach professional truck drivers with the respect and fair treatment that their important work and commitment to safety demand,” Johnston continued.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx defended the motor carrier safety administration's work on the truck driver scheduling rules and urged Congress to reverse its decision to make alterations to the rules in a statement that was provided to The Hill.
"The Department of Transportation and our Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted unprecedented levels of research, including public input and the largest real-world study of its kind in developing a rule that protects everyone on the road, including truck drivers themselves," Foxx said.
"The rule is estimated to save 19 lives each year while impacting fifteen percent of truck drivers," the DOT chief continued. "We are deeply concerned that Congress is considering even a temporary reversion to a system that allows drivers to log an average of up to 82 hours per week while the current rule limits the average to 70 hours per week."
Foxx added that DOT officials were particular concerned about the impact of fatigue on truck drivers.
"Keeping people safe is the primary mission of the Dept of Transportation," he said. "Fatigue has long been recognized as a factor in crashes - it's why we have regulations limiting hours for airline pilots and train engineers, and it's why we recently revised the hours for truck drivers, where fatigue is still a leading factor in the 300,000 crashes that occur each year."
-This story was updated with new information at 3:03 p.m.