American Trucking Associations, arguing that the proposal would cost a fortune and would not improve safety, got a provision in the Senate DOT appropriations bill that would force DOT to stop work on the controversial proposal.
That bill is now on its way to the House, where it must be reconciled with the House DOT appropriations bill, which does not contain the hours of service provision.
ATA had little opposition in the Senate, but the House will be a different story. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, who will be the House’s manager of the conference, is “vehemently opposed” to the ATA provision, said a senior Hill staffer.
Wolf recognizes that there are problems with the proposal, but he thinks that the remedy in the Senate bill is too extreme, the staffer said. The bill prevents DOT from even reviewing the comments it is receiving.
It is possible, the staffer said, that Wolf will simply refuse to call a conference – and wait for the Senate to propose a compromise. In any event, however, the conference will not take place before the July 4 recess.
Meanwhile, DOT is gearing up its own campaign against the Senate provision. Clyde Hart, acting chief of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is taking the administration’s case against the provision to the Hill, said agency spokesman David Longo.
“A ban on hours of service reform utterly contradicts Congress’s aggressive action to improve truck safety,” Longo said. “With the creation of new truck agency less than six months ago, truckers want Congress to end all debate on new driver safety rules. There should be public outrage.”
So far there has been no public reaction to ATA’s stated aim of forcing DOT to reopen the negotiated rulemaking process. This would in effect resuscitate the negotiations that foundered last year when mediators concluded they could not find common ground among the numerous constituencies interested in the rules.
And as these maneuvers surrounding the appropriations bills play out, waiting in the wings are free-standing bills in the House and Senate that also would squelch the hours of service proposal.
At issue are the 60-year-old rules that govern how long drivers can work and how much time they get for rest. The reform proposal would require truck and bus companies to revamp their operating schedules, and it would force long-haul and regional operators to install onboard recorders to track driver hours.
The proposal has been greeted with near-universal disdain by the trucking industry, which says that it would cost far more than DOT projects – and would create more safety problems than it solves.