Trucking companies urged Congress on Wednesday to block proposed changes to truck driver work hours, arguing tighter restrictions would backfire by putting more trucks on the road and making highways more congested and unsafe.
The comments came at a hearing aimed at building momentum to stop changes already moving through regulatory channels that could sharply overhaul the rules on how long and when truck drivers can be on the road.
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration will file a status report on its proposed hours over service rule this week, and the agency is expected to unveil the entire rule by the end of the year. In a proposed rule released last December, the agency suggested cutting the daily driving limit from 11 to 10 hours and changing the 34-hour restart provision.
Proponents argue the restrictions will reduce fatalities and injuries in crashes related to truck driver fatigue. But the American Trucking Associations, along with various shippers, say studies shows truck safety already is improving dramatically under current regulations.
An FMCSA report released in October said the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes declined 21 percent in 2009 from 2008, the largest annual decline since records have been kept. Fatal truck crashes declined 31 percent from 2007 through 2009, the agency said in its report.
But FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro told a House subcommittee the rate of accidents caused by fatigue has increased in recent years. She also said fatalities historically have declined during a recession, and the recent drops came as economic activity in the United States retrenched sharply from 2007 to 2009.
ATA President and CEO Bill Graves says that is misguided, and told the panel proponents of the changes are now attempting to use our country’s weak economy as a wedge, arguing for this rule simply because it will reduce productivity and create driving jobs.
He said the regulation would force truck operators to drive 5 billion more miles, and based on recent crash rates, this would lead to 52 more fatal crashes and nearly 900 injuries annually.
Graves said the regulation would reduce the industry’s productivity by 5 percent and force companies to hire at least 115,000 drivers. The White House estimates the rule change could cost some $1 billion.
Republicans in the House appear intent on blocking the rule change, as they did a similar amendment of HOS rules in the 1990s.
The FMCSA is “playing games with numbers” and has used “fuzzy math” to make its case for the tighter regulations, said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told attendees of a House subcommittee hearing on the rule change Wednesday morning.