One trucking group says the way to end the controversy is to go ahead and end the use of paper logbooks. Photo: Jim Park

One trucking group says the way to end the controversy is to go ahead and end the use of paper logbooks. Photo: Jim Park

The fight over the 34-hour restart broke out again Thursday. A safety advocacy group released research indicating that the public does not want truck drivers to work longer hours, and trucking groups jumped in.

One argued that the research has no merit. The other's contention was that the real solution to the problem is to expedite the pending electronic logging mandate.

At issue is the effort by American Trucking Associations to get Congress to suspend the 34-hour restart provision of the hours of service rules.

The provision requires drivers to take off two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. during their restart. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says this will improve safety because nighttime sleep is more restorative than daytime sleep.

ATA opposes this restriction, arguing that it can reduce carrier productivity and may increase risk by putting more trucks on the road during Monday morning rush hour. ATA is pushing legislation that would suspend the provision pending more research into its impact.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which opposes suspension of the restart, hired a polling company to gauge public reaction. The polling company framed its question two ways.

Half of the respondents were told about the truck crash that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed one of his companions, then asked if Congress should raise the weekly work limit for truck drivers from 70 to 82 hours.

The other half got the same question without the reference to the Tracy Morgan crash.

Eighty percent of the group said they oppose increasing the limit, and 60% said they strongly oppose it. Seventeen percent said they think it’s a good idea to raise the limit.

“This survey reveals a clear disconnect between what the public wants and what special trucking interests want from Congress,” said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates, in a statement. “We urge Congress to reject this anti-safety change and heed the public’s assessment of its dangers.”

ATA jumped in, urging Congress to ignore the poll.

“The results of a misleading push poll should not be taken into consideration when crafting public policy,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves in a statement.

Referencing Advocates' assertion that the restart suspension would increase the weekly limit from 70 to 82 hours, he said, “FMCSA has previously said that the alleged working hours envisioned by these industry critics are only possible in an ‘imaginary world.’”

He also referenced ATA’s own recent poll, which asked if respondents would prefer trucks to be on the road between midnight and 5 a.m. or in the morning. By a margin similar to that in the Advocates’ poll, respondents said they would rather not see trucks in the morning.

The third voice in this dust-up is that of The Trucking Alliance, which represents a half-dozen truck lines that have their own safety agenda on Capitol Hill.

Lane Kidd, managing director of the group, took the occasion of the Advocates poll to urge FMCSA to speed up work on the electronic logging mandate.

“The stark reality is that without a way to verify industry compliance, it doesn’t matter what the federal government’s hours of service rules are for truck drivers,” Kidd said in a statement. “Nobody really knows who is and who is not following these federal hours of service rules, because paper logbooks easily allow truck drivers to exceed their maximum number of hours."

FMCSA has proposed a rule that would require practically all carriers to use electronic logs. The agency is reviewing comments on the proposal and is expected to issue a final rule next year. The Alliance wants the rule done sooner rather than later.

“[The] technology will assure compliance with current rules and also provide objective data to determine how many hours of driving time for truck drivers should be allowed,” Kidd said.

The next stage in this fight will come after the November 4 election, when Congress will have to vote on appropriations legislation to fund the government through next September.

ATA is eyeing the chance to get its restart suspension attached to that appropriations bill.