The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21 to 9 on June 5 to block funding in fiscal 2015 for enforcement of last year’s changes in the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations that ban more than one restart per week and require that a qualified restart include two consecutive rest periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
The amendment to the transportation funding bill also requires a comprehensive study of the safety impact of those specific requirements while they are suspended. If enacted, the suspension would take effect Oct. 1 or when the measure becomes law, whichever is later.
All committee Republicans supported the amendment sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) as did seven Democrats.
The measure now moves to full Senate consideration as part of the transportation funding bill, although committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who voted against the Collins amendment, indicated that she would try to forge a compromise before floor consideration.
Several opponents of the measure had suggested adopting the study but leaving the rules in place in the interim. The transportation funding bill moving through the House does not address the HOS restart language.
Collins argued that her amendment addresses some of the “unintended and unanticipated consequences” of the HOS changes. Collins said that there is some evidence that overnight driving restrictions are leading to more trucks being on the road during daylight hours and that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has not studied the safety impact.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who chairs the committee’s transportation subcommittee, opposed the Collins amendment, saying that the HOS rules had been “litigated and debated” for years. In response, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), said, “This issue has been litigated and debated. I’m not sure it has been researched.” Blunt argued that what has happened is that more trucks are being forced into daylight hours, so it’s appropriate to suspend the rules until FMCSA calculates the effect.
Several Democrats spoke in favor of the Collins amendment, including Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who agreed with arguments on the unintended consequences of pushing more driving into daytime hours and introduced a second reason for objecting to the HOS provisions.
“I just viscerally have an objection to the federal government going so far as to prescribe when people should sleep,” Landrieu said. “I just think this is way beyond where we should be. Way beyond.”
Other Democrats speaking in favor of the Collins amendment were Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mark Begich (D-AK). While most of the discussion during the committee’s consideration was about the 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. provision, Tester highlighted the 168-hour rule – the provision that allows drivers to count only one restart in any given 168-hour period.
Tester argued that if you allow drivers to take more than one restart they might be more inclined to take an extended break if they want to after they have already taken their restart for the week. “Without repealing that you could have drivers on the road who are even more tired than they would be if you allow an extra restart during the week….I honestly believe the Collins amendment will make drivers more rested, not less.”
One Democrat who opposed the amendment nevertheless suggested that he might be open to suspending the specific provision related to the 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. “I would like truck drivers to have the option to stay out of the Chicago Loop during the busiest time of the morning,” said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). “I don’t think that makes it any safer for them or anyone else. And if they want to start driving at 3 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. to avoid congestion in the Loop, I think we ought to have at least some consideration of that.”
Durbin supports the 168-rule but also favors the study.
The American Trucking Assons. (ATA) praised the committee’s action.
“Since these rules were proposed in 2010, ATA has maintained that they were unsupported by science and since they were implemented in 2013 the industry and economy have experienced substantial negative effects as a result,” said ATA president & CEO Bill Graves. “Today, thanks to Senator Collins’ leadership, we are a step closer to reversing these damaging, unjustified regulations.”
ATA chairman Phil Byrd, president of Charleston, SC-based Bulldog Hiway Express, argued that the new rules prevent some drivers from taking a restart over the weekend. “As a result, they need to take their restart midweek leading to shipping delays and costs. And even if drivers do get to take a weekend restart, the current restart requirements increase congestion because it puts large numbers of trucks on the highways at 5:01 a.m. Monday morning."