A time to write

HOS proposal demands your strong responseThe Bible tells us there's a time to sow and a time to reap. Trucking's prophets tell us this is a time to write.If every person affected by the Dept. of Transportation's proposal for reforming hours-of-service (HOS) rules doesn't mail or electronically send the agency their comments on why this regulation won't work -and how it should be rewritten - they will

HOS proposal demands your strong response

The Bible tells us there's a time to sow and a time to reap. Trucking's prophets tell us this is a time to write.

If every person affected by the Dept. of Transportation's proposal for reforming hours-of-service (HOS) rules doesn't mail or electronically send the agency their comments on why this regulation won't work -and how it should be rewritten - they will only have themselves to blame.

The stakes are high. Perhaps no one underscores the threat to the industry as strongly as Herb Schmidt, president of Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI). He says adoption of the new rules would do no less than markedly alter "trucking as we know it."

And that's no knee-jerk reaction. Schmidt goes on to say he and, by extension, other trucking leaders, are "not opposed to constructive change."

Indeed, that should be the point of any letter-writing campaign against the new HOS rules. The well-meaning folks at DOT, as Schmidt rightly characterizes them, have worked long and hard to fashion the current proposal with a laudable goal in mind - making the nation's highways safer.

The feds aren't just going to walk away from this one. Besides, if they did, they wouldn't be doing their jobs. On top of that, if they don't wrap this baby up by Election Day, they'll have to start all over under a new President's administration.

Since DOT isn't about to junk their efforts at HOS reform, it's up to trucking to show them the error of their ways. That is, to file comments with the agency that explain not just what's wrong with the new rules, but how they should be changed.

The good news, according to fleet managers who've said their peace at public hearings on the issue, is that DOT officials seem very willing to listen.

Better late than never. Another positive sign is that Sec. of Transportation Rodney Slater has agreed to extend the written-comment period on this proposal to October 30.

That means, as of this writing, truckers of all stripes have a good four months to organize their thoughts and commit them to pen and paper or computer screen.

Again (it can't be emphasized enough!) the key thing to hammer home to DOT is how the regulation should be written. Don't just knock it. Instead, tell them how many hours on and off drivers should drive, when they should get breaks, how long the breaks should be, etc.

The pen is also mightier than the whine when it comes to petitioning the U.S. Congress for redress. Together, the House and Senate alone can outright kill the HOS proposal. That may not be such an ideal solution - as it would only stave off the inevitable.

Be that as it may, trucking already has allies in Congress for this fight. Last month, the Senate passed a measure to block the HOS revisions, authored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, by an overwhelming vote of 99 to 0.

Other lawmakers have also commented on the rulemaking. Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), for one, appears to favor fixing over ditching the proposal: "Is this the best proposal? I am not convinced that it is, but I do believe the DOT should move forward with the prescribed process of gathering data and comments that can determine the best course of action. American truckers and the American driving public deserve the continuation of the hours-of-service reform process."

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