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Trucking ‘fix’ attached to short-term spending bill

Trucking ‘fix’ attached to short-term spending bill
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A so-called “technical fix” to a drafting error made in a previous spending bill regarding trucker rest breaks has been attached to a short-term funding bill to keep the government running for the next few months.

The language, favored by Republicans and the trucking industry, clarifies what rules will be in place if the Department of Transportation (DOT) fails to prove that Obama’s proposed changes to the trucking hours-of-service rule is beneficial for drivers.

The American Trucking Associations [ATA] “thanks Congress for including what should be a permanent fix to the hours-of-service restart in this Continuing Resolution, and we look forward to its final passage into law to resolve this issue,” said Chris Spear, president and chief executive officer. “The entire industry will now be able to comply with this rule thanks to a common sense approach championed by a bipartisan group of legislators.”

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The issue has been a lightning rod in the debate over transportation appropriations and is sure to be met with fierce resistance from safety groups and some Democrats.

Although Obama is also likely to oppose the policy rider since it would block his proposed rule, it’s unclear whether the White House would issue a veto threat and risk a government shutdown over the issue.

 

“In a major assault on the safety of families and truck drivers across the country, the House and Senate Republican leaders just delivered special trucking interests an early Christmas present,” said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Language inserted in the year-end government funding bill repeals key safety features of the Obama Administration’s truck driver hours of service rule intended to combat truck driver fatigue.”

The House Appropriations Committee released the CR Tuesday evening, which funds the government through April 28. Current funding expires Friday.

Last year’s omnibus spending bill suspended Obama’s proposed changes to the hours-of-service rule for truck drivers until the DOT can prove the regulation would actually improve driver health and safety.

Obama’s proposed change — which was briefly enacted in 2013 but later suspended — would have modified the 34-hour “restart” period for truckers, which is an amount of off-duty time that drivers can take in order to reset their driving limit.

The new rule would have mandated that every restart period include two nights in that break, with no driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., and said that truckers could only use one restart per week. The regulation effectively would have limited truck drivers to 70 hours a week.

But lawmakers left out essential language in the omnibus clarifying what would happen if the DOT fails to prove that the update is beneficial to drivers. Such an omission would force the agency to revert to old rules put in place more than a decade ago if the DOT can't make its case.

Language was tucked into the CR that clarifies which rule would apply if the DOT fails to prove that Obama’s rule would benefit drivers.

It requires DOT “to follow the existing 34-hour restart ‘Hours of Service' rule for truck drivers to ensure continuity in federal rest regulations, should the report on the rule (mandated in prior Acts) not meet the criteria set by Congress,” a summary sheet says.

Safety advocates have blasted the language in the past, claiming that the trucking industry lobbied heavily for the change and arguing that it will encourage longer workweeks and endanger truck drivers and other motorists on the road.

“This action will literally have life and death consequences for truck drivers and all motorists sharing the roads with them,” said Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “This ‘tired trucker’ provision has no place in this bill and Congress has no business coddling trucking interests using a backdoor legislative maneuver to circumvent public debate and conceal safety impacts.”