“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.[PAGEBREAK]
Still, DeFazio wondered rhetorically if the agency should consider letting such specialized operations combine a couple of shorter breaks to achieve the 30-minute effect.
[PAGEBREAK]Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, presented the views of American Trucking Associations.
He said the changes are not necessary for safety and that although the impact is hard to measure in advance he’s sure there will be productivity losses and higher operating costs.
Major Mark Savage, president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said that inspectors see the new rule as “fairly straightforward” but are concerned that parts of it may be difficult to enforce.
Without a corresponding requirement for supporting documents, drivers may be able to cheat on the 34-hour restart, the 30-minute break and the definition of on-duty time, he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged that new requirements for supporting documents will be included in the pending electronic logging mandate. It probably will take a couple of years for FMCSA to get that rule to be in place, however.
Edward Stocklin, an over-dimension hauler representing the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the new rule will restrict the flexibility he needs to run his business.
The 34-hour restart will lead to him spending more time away from home and on the road, and he’ll be hard-pressed to pull over and park his oversized loads for the 30-minute break, he said.
Joan Claybrook, consumer co-chair of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said that although the 34-hour restart restrictions are a step in the right direction, FMCSA should have cut the daily driving limit from 11 to 10 hours.
She noted that a federal appeals court twice upheld Advocates’ challenges of earlier versions of the rule, and that the matter is back in court now because the group does not like the new rule.
The hearing gave Steve Williams, well known in the industry as a forceful proponent of electronic logging, the opportunity to press his case. The hours of service rules are only a part of the safety solution, and he said electronic logging is the missing link.
“We need to make sure we mandate eobrs or the rest of this is all irrelevant,” he said.
Why are they so critical? asked Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark.
“We’re all trying to get to the real facts,” Williams replied. Maverick uses elogs and can manage its truck usage to the minute, he said. “(Electronic logs) give you data so you can manage. Most important, they give law enforcement with CSA the tools to focus on carriers that have problems.”
Asked for a status report, Ferro said the agency will have an elog proposal out this fall.
But, proving that the industry is not of one mind on this issue, Stocklin of OOIDA said elogs would spell the end of his business.
“If they force me to do it I’ll just quit,” he said.