A move to allow truck drivers to work more overnight shifts is currently included in the government funding bill that was released Monday evening by Congress, over the objection of safety groups who argued the changes would make roads less safe.
The provision to ease federal trucker scheduling regulations designed to prevent driver fatigue was inserted into the $1.014 trillion “cromnibus” funding legislation that was unveiled this week to prevent a government shutdown by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsMedicare looms over Trump-Ryan alliance Senators crafting bill to limit deportations under Trump Cornyn: ‘Virtual certainty’ Sessions and Price will be confirmed MORE (R-Maine) at the behest of trucking industry groups.
Victims of accidents that have involved truck drivers said after the funding legislation was revealed that Collins was prioritizing trucking companies over the safety of other drivers on U.S. roads.
The proposal at issue would eliminate a current requirement that truck drivers take breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights before they can work again. The measure would also remove a limit on the number of times they can declare the start of a new workday.
Truck drivers would still be limited to working 70 hours over one week. After reaching that limit, they would have to take an immediate 34-hour break before getting back behind the wheel.
The trucking industry has argued that the current overnight scheduling rules have resulted in more trucks being on the road during daytime hours, when traffic is heavier and trips take longer.
Trucker groups also contend the DOT regulations are forcing drivers to take two full days off, in some cases, before they could work again.
Collins has noted that the proposed trucker scheduling changes were included in an earlier amendment that won committee approval in June before they became entangled in controversy after a high-profile accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan.
She defended her effort to change the overnight scheduling rules in the goverment funding package Wednesday, saying the current regulations were unnecessary burdensome to trucking companies.
“I care deeply about safety on our nation’s roads, and no one wants to see an accident caused by driver fatigue or by any other cause," Collins said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. "What has become clear is that new federal rules, implemented last year, have presented some unintended and unanticipated consequences that are not in the best interest of public safety, truck drivers, or the businesses and consumers who depend on their services."
Collins added that opponents of changing the trucker scheduling rules were painting an unfair picture of the language that was inserted into the government funding package.
“Despite misinformation being circulated, this provision does not impose or propose a permanent repeal of the hours of service regulations, nor does it suspend all of the changes to the hours of service regulations that were implemented in July 2013 as others have proposed," the Maine senator said. "This provision does not change the maximum number of hours per day that a driver can be behind the wheel. It does not change the mandatory 30-minute meal or rest break during a shift. It does not change the total on-duty hours in each shift. It does not change the minimum off-duty hours required between shifts or the requirement that will be implemented for electronic onboard recorders."
Groups that advocate for trucking companies in Washington praised Collins after the spending bill was released for getting the scheduling changes inserted into the broad government funding legislation, despite the objection from transportation officials in the Obama administration and safety groups.
“OOIDA and small business truckers applaud the House and Senate for rejecting scare tactics and misinformation and maintaining the bipartisan hours-of-service provision,” Operator Independent Drivers Association Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said in a statement.
“Small business truckers know from personal experience that current restart restrictions compromise safety by forcing them onto the roads during the most congested and dangerous hours of morning traffic,” Spencer continued. “While this isn’t the final word on the restart restrictions, OOIDA and our members thank Sen. Collins for her commitment to safety and tenacity fighting for sound policy.”
Congress is expected to complete work this week on the government appropriations package, which includes a large number of policy riders in addition to the trucking changes, before they break for the holidays. Current funding expires on Dec. 11.
The proposed measure is expected to keep all government agencies open through September 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security. Agencies dealing with immigration policy would only be funded through late winter, likely through February.
-This story was last updated with new information at 1:36 p.m.