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Hours of Service Rule Could be Published as Soon as Tomorrow

December 21, 2011

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The revised hours of service rule has been cleared by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and is expected to be released soon, perhaps tomorrow.


The stage is set for its arrival. Ttrucking interests have said they will sue if the new rule is too restrictive, safety advocates have reserved the right to resume their suit if the rule is not to their liking, and Republicans on Capitol Hill are poised to make an issue out of what the Obama administration does.

A year ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed a number of substantive changes in the current rules.

Briefly:

* Consider limiting daily driving time to 10 hours rather than the current 11 hours.

* Release drivers from duty after 14 consecutive hours, rather than have the current option of continuing on duty but not drive.

* Give drivers a one-hour break during the day by limiting actual duty time within the 14-hour driving window to 13 hours.

* Limit consecutive time behind the wheel by prohibiting a driver from driving if it has been more than 7 hours since his last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes.

* Modify the 34-hour restart to include two periods between midnight and 6 a.m., to be used once a week.

* Change the definition of on-duty time from any time in the truck, except the sleeper berth, to exempt any time spent resting in a parked truck and up to two hours in the passenger seat of a moving truck immediately before or after eight hours in a sleeper berth.

One of the most contentious provisions is the idea of limiting daily driving time to 10 hours. The agency said in its proposal that it was leaning in that direction, and in the public discussions and commentary over the past year there has been no indication from the agency that it has backed off the idea.

American Trucking Associations has indicated that it will challenge a rule that contains this provision, while safety advocates have indicated that for them the 10-hour limit is not negotiable.

And the issue is in political play on Capitol Hill.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, warned the administration that the committee will "aggressively oversee" any changes to the current rules, although he subsequently declined to say what he meant by that.

At a House hearing by the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs earlier this month, questioning broke down along party lines. Republican members took the view that the rewrite of the rule is an example of excessive government regulation, while Democrats contended that safety deserves as much consideration as cost.

"The rule appears to be a solution in search of a problem," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs. "It appears the current rules are working and strike a fair balance."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the ranking minority member of the panel, said that the hearing was framed as an issue of cost to the consumer but it is more appropriate to focus on safety. "The evidence suggests that fatigue is a major factor in crashes," he said.

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