Barring an 11th hour deal, we will see something fairly rare on Thursday morning, June 5: A debate on trucking safety in a public and unpredictable forum that will lead to a newsworthy action one way or another. That means we will see national wire service coverage, and there’s a good chance that your local newspaper or television station will pick it up and want to localize the story. In the few hours you have available, prepare now to respond to a call from a reporter or perhaps even to take the initiative to promote your safety record.
In case you are wondering what I’m talking about, the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up its version of the transportation funding bill, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) plans to offer an amendment that will suspend certain elements of the truck driver hours-of-service restart provision pending further study.
The Collins amendment would suspend for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, the mandatory back-to-back 1:00 am to 5:00 a.m. off-duty period as part of the cumulative restart and the language allowing only one restart in any 168-hour period. Again, absent a compromise, the committee will either approve the amendment or vote it down; either way expect to see substantial news coverage on Thursday.
The entire trucking industry and a number of shipper, supply chain and business organizations are lining up behind the Collins amendment and are urging their supporters to contact their senators who are members of the appropriations committee.
In their letter to committee leaders, the groups said that the changes to the restart provision have been much more troublesome than what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimated. FMCSA had said only a small percentage of drivers – those routinely working excessive hours – would be affected. “However, several motor carriers and a major domestic automobile manufacturer recently met with FMCSA on this matter and demonstrated, using real data from electronic logging devices, that the restrictions are having unintended impacts on many drivers, including those working very reasonable hours,” the groups said.
“In addition, and more importantly, these motor carriers have not experienced any corresponding safety or driver health benefits,” the trucking and business groups told committee leaders. “FMCSA’s top leadership acknowledged the problems, characterized them as unintended consequences, but then refused to provide the affected industries with any opportunity for industry-wide meaningful relief.”
FMCSA is fighting back. In a June 3 blog post, Administrator Anne Ferro defended the new restart provision and highlighted several catastrophic crashes reported by victims’ families.
Although Ferro opposes the Collins amendment, she did acknowledge in a recent interview with Fleet Owner that the HOS changes appear to be burdening some trucking operations and invited those operations to seek relief through exemption requests or other mechanisms. Ferro also addressed both the productivity impact and the safety benefits of the HOS changes in a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on June 3. (The discussion of the HOS changes begins at about 1 hour, 22 minutes into the archived video and continues in a more heated exchange at about 1 hour, 27 minutes in.)
The Senate Appropriations Committee likely will vote on the Collins amendment by late morning on Thursday. You might not hear from your local media, but don’t be caught off guard if you do.