Trucking is a diverse industry, so "one size fits all" regulations are problematic, say critics.
“Civil and somewhat contentious” was how Rep. Thomas Petri, R-Wisc., described Tuesday’s congressional hearing on truck driver hours of service, and he got it just about right.
The hearing by the House Highways Subcommittee offered the major contenders in the perpetual HOS wars a chance to air their complaints, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration the chance to defend itself.
Petri noted that rules have been in constant litigation since 1995, leading to confusion in trucking and in the enforcement community.
“Every stakeholder that is impacted by the hours of service regulations has passionate beliefs on the correct way to implement them, so it’s no wonder that litigation has persisted.”
The back-and-forth at the hearing appears unlikely to lead to any immediate changes in the status of the hours of service situation. The industry and the enforcement community are gearing up switch to the new ground rules on July 1, as the safety agency has decreed.
But there remains the possibility that the rule will not go into effect on time, due to a legal challenge that could be decided any day.
The Legal Challenge
At issue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit are petitions by trucking interests to strike four provisions of the rule, and by safety advocates who say FMCSA erred when it preserved the 34-hour restart and 11-hour driving limit.
A number of outcomes are possible. The court could approve the changes as written. It could send the rule back to FMCSA for a rewrite. Or any of the parties could petition for review of the court’s decision.
One question on the mind of legislators was why the agency would go ahead with the rule before the court has ruled.
“It would have been prudent for FMCSA to wait to see what court decides,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the ranking member of the subcommittee.
Agency administrator Anne Ferro said the safety benefits of rule justify going ahead. Moreover, she added, “I am confident that the rule is strong and will be upheld.”
Reps. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., took Ferro to task for going ahead with the rule while a field study of the 34-hour restart provision is not yet complete. The study is coming this summer, Ferro replied, but the agency went ahead because there already is a substantial body of research that supports the rule.”
One Size Doesn't Fit All
Other complaints turn on the perception that the agency has taken a “one size fits all” approach.
It was a point made by Jeffrey Hinkle, manager of transportation at Chandler Concrete Company and speaking on behalf of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.
Ready-mix schedules are unpredictable and the product is perishable, so it will be hard for these carriers to comply with the 30-minute break requirement, he said.
Ferro explained that the agency was acting on research showing that such a break provides a significant safety benefit.