WASHINGTON — The trucking industry on Tuesday urged Congress to postpone the implementation of new hours of service rules set to take effect next month, arguing more research needs to be done and the regulation lacks teeth without electronic onboard recording device monitoring.
But is it too late for Congress to act? The new HOS rules — requiring drivers to take a 30-minute break after driving eight consecutive hours and limiting their ability to restart their weekly clocks — takes effect July 1 unless a U.S. Court of Appeals overturns the regulation. Congress should freeze the rule-making until the court issues its verdict and a field study on the impact of the rule is completed, Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The head of the Little Rock, Ark-based truckload carrier urged Congress to also require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to order an independent analysis how HOS rules will impact safety, truck productivity and consumer prices.
But despite some members’ fierce criticism of the new rules, the committee didn’t give any clear signs that it planned to block the new HOS rules from taking effect. The skepticism over how the FMCSA handled HOS could, however, embolden House Republicans to take a larger role in future trucking regulation. House T&I Committee Chair Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said he doubted the agency’s one-size-fits-all approach was the best way forward and raised concerns that emotional arguments were trumping facts. His comments paralleled those of the American Trucking Associations, which has argued that FMCSA’s rule-making was based on false statistical analysis.
“Another great concern of mine … is that the fourth branch of government, the federal bureaucracies, are gaining more power with Congress having less of a say,” Shuster said.
The new HOS rules will cut truck productivity by 1.5 percent to 4 percent, resulting in an industry loss of $500 million to $1.4 billion, Williams said, citing a Wells-Fargo Securities report. The new rules will also make it harder for the industry to recruit drivers, as the new restart restriction will decrease the amount of time they can spend at home. Finding truck drivers has become so difficult that Maverick, which historically only hired experienced drivers, spent $8 million last year to train more than 900 new drivers.
There is also skepticism that many in the industry that FMCSA and the states won't be able to enforce HOS rules until drivers’ workdays are monitored via EOBRs. An EOBR mandate became law in the 2012 highway bill and could take effect as early as 2015, but the FMCSA still has to determine whether the technology could be used to harass drivers. The owner-operator industry opposes the devices because they would add to the growing costs such drivers struggle to manage.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro defended the agency’s approach, saying that an unprecedented amount of public hearings were held and the rules were created after thorough study and statistical analysis. But a field study of the effect of the new restart provisions, which began earlier this year, won’t be finished until this summer. That irked some members of the House, including Reps. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla. Both downplayed the ability of the agency to understanding the trucking industry's concerns via public hearings.
Edward Stocklin, an owner-operator, said the new rules will hamper drivers ability to choose when it’s the best time to rest and when to keep rolling. Stocklin, who spoke on behalf of the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, said he will shut down if the EOBR mandate takes effect.
Ferro downplayed the chance of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., overturning the new HOS regulation, saying she has “a very high confidence” that the rule will stand. She added that appeals court decisions can take a year and the agency is unwilling to risk losing safety benefits awaiting a decision.
Even highway safety advocates aren’t completely satisfied with the HOS rules. The new HOS rules fail to address the truck driver "health epidemic" by failing to go back to the pre-2004 10-hour daily driving limit, and allowing drivers to work up to 14 hours a day on driving and non-driving tasks, said Joan Claybrook, consumer co-sponsor of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and former head of Public Citizen. The new regulation also doesn’t “ensure that all drivers, regardless of their schedules, could not continually use the minimum 34-hour off-duty period to maximize driving hours,” she said. Instead, the new HOS rule requires drivers to get two nights sleep before the restart and take 30-minute break after the first eight hours of work.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance is concerned that the new rules don’t require drivers to have supporting documents showing they took the required 30-minute breaks, said Mark Savage, the group’s president. The HOS rules “will be more difficult to enforce roadside because the rules expand, rather than reduce opportunities for concealing hours,” he said.