As the trucking industry and its critics battle on Capitol Hill over efforts to suspend last year’s changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) restart provisions, the organization representing the motor carrier law enforcement community has weighed in favor of keeping the existing rules in place.

Meanwhile, the American Trucking Assns. believes that the trucking industry will succeed in defeating an amendment to kill the suspension of the HOS restart changes that was approved June 5 by the Senate Appropriations Committee as part of the Dept. of Transportation funding bill (S. 2438).

The full Senate is scheduled to consider S. 2438 as early as Tuesday, June 17. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to offer an amendment negating the committee’s vote to suspend pending a study during fiscal 2015 the requirements that a restart of cumulative HOS limits include back-to-back 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. off-duty periods and that drivers can take only one restart in a given 168-hour period.

Given that the Appropriations Committee’s vote was 21 to 9 and included seven Democrats, initially it appeared there would be little chance the full Senate would vote otherwise. But a high-profile truck crash involving a national celebrity just a couple days after the committee vote threatened to change the dynamics. Since then numerous news outlets and some lawmakers have weighed in against changing the rules.

Despite the negative attention, ATA has continued to engage and make its case to legislators that the unintended consequences of the HOS restart changes on safety in real-world operations outweigh the very limited supposed benefits touted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Drilling into the numbers shows a range of 75 to 100 fatal accidents where fatigue of the truck driver was the principal factor, noted Bill Graves, ATA president & CEO, in a conference call June 17 with journalists. In rolling out the rulemaking, FMCSA projected the rule would save about 19 lives but in Congressional hearings the agency admitted it had done no research on the impact of the 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. limitation on traffic and congestion – and on safety – during the daytime, Graves said. Moreover, the 168-hour rule discourages drivers from taking extended breaks if they already had a restart during the week, trucking executives participating in the call argued.

Graves noted that in recent months FMCSA has offered opportunities for additional studies and pilot tests. “We believe that speaks volumes of the inadequacy of the research.” The language adopted by the Appropriations Committee is an opportunity to reconsider the negative provisions of the HOS rule, Graves said. “We think it’s a prudent request.”

“We feel very confident that we will be successful on this vote,” said Chris Spear, ATA vice president and chief of legislative affairs, in the conference call. “This is our top priority.”

And while the bill (H.R. 4745) passed by the House last week does not address the HOS restart, ATA representatives are very confident that the House negotiators on the transportation funding bill will agree to the suspension if it passes the Senate.

The view from enforcement

The trucking industry is united in seeking a suspension of the restart changes, but a group representing the people responsible for enforcing the rules wants to leave them be.

“Because this issue has such wide ranging impacts, to legislate changes through the appropriations process undermines the regulatory development process and is clearly not in the best interests of the public, nor does it provide for transparency and openness in government,” said Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, in a June 16 statement.

“The hours-of-service regulations are first and foremost safety regulations, not efficiency or productivity regulations,” Keppler continued. “While the regulations certainly should and need to take into account the economic impacts to the industry that is not what they are principally designed to do.”

Keppler argued that legislating changes less than a year into the new rules without a comprehensive analysis of the safety impacts is not in the public interest. “We need to be data driven and fact based in our decision making.”

The HOS rules clearly correlate with safety, Keppler said, adding that they are the most cited violations during roadside inspections and represent seven of the top 13 violations documented so far during 2014. “We also know that drivers who are cited roadside with an hours-of-service violation are 45% more likely to be in a future crash than the average driver.”

In addition to the safety impact, Keppler cited another concern more specific to his membership. “Legislating changes to the HOS rules now, not even a year since becoming effective, creates significant uniformity and consistency problems across the country,” he said. “The results of this legislative action will create unnecessary upheaval for the states and cause significant operational and budgetary impacts on their enforcement efforts.”

CVSA supports a comprehensive study on the safety and operational impacts of the HOS regulations with the current rules in place, Keppler said. “Once this analysis has been completed, only then would it be appropriate to consider any changes or adjustments through the rulemaking process.”

Asked during the ATA conference call about CVSA’s concerns about uniformity and consistency, Graves argued that they were unfounded. “Steve knows full well that enforcing the current rule is virtually impossible,” Graves said, adding, however, that he “can understand why Steve would want to stand behind the administrator in this case.”

Phil Byrd, ATA’s chairman and president of North Charleston, SC-based Bulldog Hiway Express, argued that Keppler’s opposition doesn’t hold water because the old rule was safer than the new one. “Our concern about the regulation is not how it impedes productivity but how it impacts public safety,” Byrd said in the call.

“The previous restart rule was much more clear and much less confusing, so I don’t see any issues in going back and forth,” said Dave Manning, president of Nashville, TN-based Tennessee Express. “This is going back to something that everyone is familiar with.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. also disagreed with CVSA’s decision to back the current rules. “It would not be in the public’s best interest to allow federal agencies to dictate regulations as they see fit without input from elected officials as suggested in the letter,” an OOIDA spokesperson told Fleet Owner.