A Department of Transportation (DOT) study did not find that an Obama-era proposal to change the hours-of-service rule for truckers improves driver safety and health, according to the agency’s inspector general.
The findings likely mean that the proposal to restrict a trucker’s “restart” period — the amount of off-duty time that drivers can take in order to reset their driving limit — is under review in the new administration.
In a short letter to House and Senate appropriators, the inspector general said it agreed with the DOT report — which has not yet been made public — that the rule doesn’t “explicitly identify a net benefit… on driver operations, safety, fatigue and health.”
Former President Obama’s proposed change — which was briefly enacted in 2013 but later suspended — would have modified the 34-hour “restart” period for truckers.
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 would have effectively limited truck drivers to 70 hours of driving a week.
But lawmakers quickly stepped in and required the DOT to first study whether the update is beneficial to drivers before it can take effect.
The inspector general said that the new DOT study has met its congressionally mandated requirements, such as using reliable testing technologies and appropriate performance measures, selecting an independent review panel and producing statistically significant results.
Safety groups have blasted Congress for putting the rule on hold and accused lawmakers of bending to the powerful trucking industry, which has vigorously opposed the proposal for years.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) applauded the long-awaited report on Monday and said it was “pleased” by the results.
“The release of this report closes what has been a long, and unnecessary, chapter in our industry’s drive to improve highway safety,” said Chris Spear, ATA’s president and CEO. “We knew from the beginning that these Obama administration restrictions provided no benefit to safety, and in light of the DOT’s findings — corroborated by the DOT Inspector General — it is good for our industry and for the motoring public that they will be done away with permanently as specified by language ATA led the charge on, including in the most recently passed continuing resolution.”
The policy has been a lightning rod in the debate over appropriations, where language requiring the study was first inserted.
Lawmakers mistakenly left out essential language in an omnibus spending bill clarifying what would happen if the DOT fails to prove that the update is beneficial to drivers. Such an omission would have forced the agency to revert to old rules put in place more than a decade ago if the DOT couldn't make its case.
Congress included a technical fix in the latest stop-gap spending bill that clarifies which rule will apply if the DOT fails to prove that Obama’s rule would benefit drivers.