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HOS Restart Fight Ongoing in Senate

WASHINGTON, DC— Trucking companies that want the hours of service (HOS) restart rule suspended while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) studies its effects are pressing to keep that provision in the U.S. Senate’s transportation appropriations bill.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the appropriations bill containing the amendment that would suspend the restart.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted 21 to 9 in favor of Sen. Susan Collins’ amendment that would suspend the current restart. But Tuesday, the House passed an appropriations bill that does not contain a HOS restart rule suspension provision.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) hosted a call-in for trucking executives to discuss how the current restart provision is affecting their business. The association says the restart cuts productivity, harms drivers and does not improve safety.

But other carriers, safety advocates and safety enforcement folks want to keep the restart rule in place while the FMCSA conducts its study.

“Legislating changes to the HOS rules now, not even a year since becoming effective, creates significant uniformity and consistency problems across the country,” said Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

Keppler claims that the Collins amendment will create problems for state enforcement of the HOS rules.

 “The importance of these rules cannot be understated, and to make changes without the appropriate analysis of their impacts or without providing appropriate due process and adequate time to implement them is irresponsible policy,” he said.

At issue is the provision of the 2013 HOS rule that requires drivers to take two periods off between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. during their 34-hour restart, and limits use of the restart to once a week.

In her amendment, Collins argued successfully that the restart provision has had unintended consequences by forcing some carriers to put trucks on the road during morning rush hour, increasing traffic congestion and risk.

Her amendment in effect suspends the two-night rest requirement and once-a-week limitation and re-imposes the pre-2013 restart, which does not contain these restrictions.

It also requires FMCSA to study the restart by comparing the work schedules and fatigue of drivers who operate under the old restart and the new one.

But the Senate’s decision this week will not necessarily settle the issue because the House appropriations bill does not contain a suspension provision, and the two chambers will have to agree on a final policy before the matter is settled.

Bad PR week for trucking

What’s not helping this restart rule tug-of-war is the bad PR week the trucking industry had after a Wal-Mart truck and a passenger vehicle carrying comedian Tracy Morgan collided, triggering a six-car pileup on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Morgan was critically injured in the accident and another comedian was killed.

Police officers claim Kevin Roper had been awake for more than 24 hours before the crash, but they haven’t said how they made such a determination. Under New Jersey law, a driver can be charged with assault by auto if he or she causes injury after knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours.

Wal-Mart issues a statement that Roper was operating "within the federal hours of service regulations."

Roper was charged by police with one count of vehicular homicide and four counts of assault by auto. A conviction on a death by auto charge carries a five-to-10-year prison sentence. Each assault by auto charge is punishable by up to 18 months in prison, so the four of them add up to six years in prison.

Roper appeared in court, pled not guilty and did not speak with reporters. He’s free on bail, set at $50K.

To read more about Roper’s trial, see the report here.  

With files from Oliver Patton.

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