White House says 73-hour limit 'undermines safety'

White House says 73-hour limit 'undermines safety'

President would reject Senate's restart cap; new House version returns rule to 2011

The White House has threatened to veto the Senate’s plan to fund transportation and housing programs for the coming fiscal year, citing a broad array of concerns and including specifically the compromise language dealing with truck driver hours of service limits. Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday takes up a plan of its own that would undo the 2013 restart changes entirely, effectiveness study or no.

The Statement of Administrative Policy issued Monday says the annual appropriations bill, recommended to the Senate last month, does not support President Obama’s “full vision for a 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan that expands transportation options for American families, while reducing carbon emissions, cutting oil consumption, and creating new jobs.”

The bill underfunds efforts aimed at “ending homelessness and revitalizing distressed communities,” the statement says, and it also points to “provisions that would undermine the safety of the Nation's highway system.”

In the point-by-point particulars, the White House objects to Sec. 131 of the bill, citing driver fatigue and provisions that “have the potential to undercut public safety.”

The section is designed to correct a problem with wording in last year’s budget package dealing with hours of service and the restart provision.

Specifically, the “fix” states that if the pre-July 2013 34-hour restart rule is restored, “then drivers who use the 34-hour restart may not drive after being on duty more than 73 hours in a 7-day period.”

Safety groups and their supporters in the Senate had argued that the pre-2013 rule allowed truck drivers to work for 80 hours or more in a week, but the 73-hour clause hasn’t eased their concerns.

Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers, called the committee’s actions “an egregious exploitation" of the appropriations process.

“For a third year now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed a spending bill that was co-authored by a select few trucking industry lobbyists,” Izer said. “The industry-penned provision will increase the amount of hours truck drivers can work in a week and deprive truckers of a real weekend off. This is wrong on so many levels.”

Similarly, the Trucking Alliance, representing several large truckload carriers and focused on issues related to truck driver safety and working conditions, has come out against the language in a DOT funding bill.

The Alliance cites potential confusion over the clause, as well the risk of “political decisions” that bypass the rulemaking process and “sound science.”

The White House a year ago voiced similar concerns over the poorly drafted restart language that led to the current provision.

Before President Obama pulls out his veto stamp, however, the bill must pass the Senate and the final funding package must be reconciled with the House version. A House Appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to markup its version of the bill Wednesday. The draft proposal includes language to bar FMCSA from enforcing the restart requirement for consecutive overnight rest periods and restores the 34-hour restart rule in effect on Dec. 26, 2011.

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