Trucker fight revived in funding bill

Trucker fight revived in funding bill
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A long-running fight over the hours truck drivers can spend on the road is being revived in the government funding bill now before Congress. 

Lawmakers are debating whether to insert a provision into the so-called “cromnibus” funding legislation that would ease trucker scheduling regulations designed to prevent driver fatigue.

The proposal 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, and remove a limit on the number of times they can declare the start of a new workday. 

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Truck drivers would still be limited to working 70 hours within one week under rules that would be left in place. After reaching that limit, they would have to take an immediate 34-hour break before getting back behind the wheel.

The attempt to dial back the truck driver rules ignited an intense lobbying battle on Capitol Hill in the spring, when opponents of the current federal regulations won passage of an amendment containing the change in a contentious committee hearing. 

Momentum for the policy change was sapped, when comedian Tracy Morgan was critically injured in a traffic accident involving a trucker in June. 

Opponents of changing the scheduling rules are trying now to put the brakes on the effort to revive the proposal in the $1.014 trillion funding bill crafted to avert a government shutdown this week.

“I write to register my strong objection to a proposal under consideration for the Omnibus Appropriations Conference agreement that would suspend the '34-hour restart' provision of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) truck safety regulations,” Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Lyft sues New York over new driver minimum pay law Lyft confidentially files for IPO MORE wrote in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) that was obtained by The Hill. 

“I am compelled by evidence available to me to implore you to reject any such suspension,” Foxx continued. 

The trucking industry has argued that the overnight scheduling rules have resulted in more trucks being on the road during daytime hours, when traffic is heavier and trips take longer to complete.

Trucker groups also contend the DOT regulations, which they said were developed too quickly, are forcing drivers to take two full days off, in some cases, before they could work again.

“In July 2013, with insufficient research, analysis and understanding of the consequences, the Obama administration placed two restrictions on America’s truck drivers that increased the risk of crashes on America’s highways,” American Trucking Association President Bill Graves said in a statement.  

“This isn’t a rider being added in the middle of the night at the 11th hour as some would have the public believe,” Graves continued. “This reasonable solution allows the government to do the research it should have done ahead of time and gives the industry the flexibility thousands of fleets and millions of drivers are pleading for.” 

Foxx countered in a blog post on the Transportation Department’s website on Monday that changing the rules in the government bill now would make U.S. roads less safe, because it would result in more tired truckers being behind the wheel. 

“This rider will have the effect of once again allowing a segment of the trucking industry to operate an average of as many as 82 hours per week,” the Transportation chief wrote. “The best science tells us that’s unsafe and will put lives at risk. Our responsibility to the traveling public requires us to warn Congress of these risks and urge reconsideration.” 

The government appropriations package was expected to be released late Monday night. Current funding expires on Dec. 11. 

The 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.

— Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.