Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has asked Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to withdraw her amendment to the 2012 Transportation Appropriations Bill that would block the Obama Administration from implementing its proposed changes for hours-of-service rules for commercial truck drivers.

“This administration is in the final stages of issuing a final rule that will address the critical safety issues of the rules governing work hours for professional truck drivers,” LaHood said in the letter. “In the interest of highway safety, I urge you not to introduce this amendment.”

LaHood wrote that Ayotte’s amendment would prevent the FMCSA “from applying the most comprehensive and up-to-date data and analysis to the issue of driver fatigue and allowable hours of service.”

“Beginning in 2009, the DOT implemented a comprehensive plan of action to tackle the issue of driver fatigue in a transparent fashion through research, listening sessions and the federal rulemaking process,” he wrote. “The final rule, if put in jeopardy, potentially undermines the entire regulatory process. In fact, some sectors of the trucking industry could be granted new operational flexibility under the proposed rule when finalized. Any disruption in the regulatory process would sacrifice these benefits and create confusions and uncertainty among state and federal enforcement officials, as well as with the motor carrier industry. As I am sure you will agree, tired truckers have no place on our nation’s roads.”

Ayotte introduced the amendment last week, stating that changes to driver hours of service could “cause significant losses in productivity and increased consumer costs for goods and services, at a time when the economy is still weak,” according to Ayotte.

The Senator said that the proposed changes fail the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) own cost-benefit analysis and could result in productivity losses in the range of $2 billion annually.

"This is yet another heavy-handed federal regulation that would disrupt business operations and increase costs for the trucking industry and consumers, and New Hampshire's truckers are rightfully concerned about the impact of these changes," said Ayotte, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. "My amendment would prevent the Administration from implementing these rules which, by DOT's own admission, are cost-prohibitive and whose impact on safety is unclear."

The current rules, in effect since 2003, have successfully reduced crash-related injuries and fatalities, despite truck mileage increasing by 10 billion miles, the Senator pointed out.

FMCSA's proposed changes would reduce a driver's maximum daily driving time from 11 hours to 10 hours and reduce the on-duty "work day" from 14 hours to 13 hours.

The proposed rule change also would impose new restrictions on the minimum 34-hour “restart,” which allows drivers to work more weekly hours if they take 34 consecutive hours off, “making use of the minimum period impossible,” the Senator said. “The changes also fail to account for delays in picking up cargo, known as detention time," according to Ayotte.

Ayotte's amendment is supported by the New Hampshire Motor Transport Assn., the American Trucking Assn. and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.

"The proposed new rules by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will increase costs and cause delays in deliveries and service. It is critically important that we continue to operate under the current Federal guidelines and we applaud Senator Ayotte in her efforts in this area,” Robert Sculley, president of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Assn. said.

“Not only will truck owners and operators feel the brunt of additional cost if this change takes place,” he continued, “but so will all New Hampshire residents as almost all goods and services are delivered by truck in New Hampshire. While there is never a good time to unnecessarily increase costs, this could not be a worse time as our country and state struggle to recover from the ongoing economic recession."

New hours of service rules are scheduled to be published by Oct. 28, but have yet to be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.