At a hearing yesterday by the House Ground Transportation Subcommittee, on the controversial proposal, Hart explained that the agency's goal is to write a rule that will improve safety with the least possible economic impact. He also said he does not expect the rule to be finished this year.
"We would rather do it right than do it quick," he told the committee.
Members of the panel have been inundated by complaints from truckers and other businesses that see the proposal as vastly expensive, impractical and a hindrance to safety, rather than an improvement. They took the opportunity of the hearing to lay their concerns before Hart, who responded that he has been hearing the same message directly from the industry. The agency is getting a thousand comments a day, he said.
"Given what we've heard, there will be some significant changes in the proposal," Hart said.
He acknowledged that the proposal does not give full weight to the economic impact of the changes. He also said that the prohibition on single drivers splitting their rest periods in the sleeper berth, while team drivers can split their rest, needs to be fixed. And the agency is considering a graduated commercial driver's license system in order to make it easier for truckers to find replacement drivers.
The safety agency estimates that truckers would have to hire an additional 49,000 drivers to fill the service gaps created by a shorter work day under the rules. ATA says that number is off by half -— that truckers will need at least 100,000 more drivers.
Hart's expression of flexibility was accompanied by a message of resolve: The Department of Transportation strongly opposes a move in the Senate to force the safety agency to stop work on the proposal.
"FMCSA believes that if this moratorium is adopted, lives will be lost while we wait," he said.
The Senate appropriations bill that contains the moratorium is on its way to the House, where it must be reconciled with the House bill that does not contain that provision. So far, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, is on record as vehemently opposed to the Senate provision. It was not clear at the House hearing whether Wolf will be joined by members of the Transportation panel.
Hart also reported that he has raised the idea of reopening a negotiated rulemaking, but that at least one interested party replied that it could not participate because it did not have the resources to go through that process. Several sources named that party as the liberal safety advocacy group Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways.