The long-anticipated federal commercial driver hours-of-service (HOS) rulemaking yesterday entered its last stage before publication as a final rule when the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) sent its revisions to the proposed rule for review to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

There is no set time for how long a rule is under review by OMB. But once the office has signed off on a rule, it returns to the department (DOT, in this case) that will issue it for any truly final changes and then it is published - at last - in the Federal Register.

Also now in the hands of OMB is DOT’s proposed rule on banning cell-phone use by commercial drivers.

The HOS rule had been scheduled to be published on Oct. 28 but the rulemaking process is taking longer than expected, no doubt due to the Federal Motor carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) need to forge a final rule in light of its legal battle with the Public Citizen lobby, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other interested parties.

Details of the final HOS rule will not be revealed until it is published, but what FMCSA had proposed up until now has greatly concerned trucking interests—especially indications the final rule would reduce daily driving time to 10 hours; furnish drivers with a one-hour break daily; and change the 34-hour restart provision significantly.

Trucking advocates have argued against these proposed HOS changes, stating they would not improve safety any further, but rather add burdensome operational costs for fleets and shippers to bear. Indeed, Dan England, chairman of C. R. England and the chairman of the American Trucking Assns., (ATA) has gone on record to state he would use his new platform to vigorously oppose any changes to the current HOS regs.

Today, ATA said in a statement that it hopes the agency will “use the extra time [of the OMB review] to consider the overwhelming input it has received from thousands of drivers and law enforcement officers that the current rule is working. There’s no need to break something that’s not broken.”

The proposed cell-phone ban for commercial drivers is, compared to HOS reform, a much less contentious piece of regulation. Therefore, it may move through the OMB review process more swiftly.

According to the FMCSA’s submitted abstract, this rulemaking ”would restrict the use of mobile telephones while operating a commercial motor vehicle. This rulemaking is in response to FMCSA-sponsored studies that analyzed safety incidents and distracted drivers.” In addition, the agency added, it “addresses an item on the National Transportation Safety Board´s ‘Most Wanted List’ of safety recommendations.”

However, ATA has urged that the rulemaking make a distinction between the use of handheld and hands-free mobile devices. According to ATA president & CEO Bill Graves, the trucking lobby “does not call for a prohibition on hands-free cell phone use because the most compelling and reliable research in the area shows that hands-free use does not elevate crash risk and perhaps even reduces it.”