Despite objections from the White House and the Truck Safety Coalition, the Senate on Thursday easily approved an annual budget bill that contains a provision to address a problem with the hours of service restart language in last year’s bill. The legislation also includes an amendment that puts a six-month deadline on the proposed truck speed limiter mandate, prompting quick opposition from small business truckers.
The $56.5 billion FY2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act, part of a package that also funds veterans’ benefits and a response to the Zika virus, passed with a bipartisan vote, 89 to 8.
Included with the DOT budget is the provision to correct a potential problem with the 34-hour restart. The Senate Appropriations committee’s solution calls for a weekly cap of 73 hours, in addition to clarifying which restart rules would be used if a study shows the 2013 changes are not effective.
Earlier this week a House subcommittee advanced its version of the THUD bill that also addresses the restart matter. The House Appropriations committee is scheduled to markup the bill May 24, with key committee Democrats expected to resist several trucking provisions.
The American Trucking Assns. Thursday asked Congress to quickly advance legislation that would maintain the current restart rule, “which gives professional truck drivers the flexibility and opportunity to take extended off-duty periods without restrictions.”
“We have said since the broad framework of the current hours-of-service rules went into effect in 2004—complying with these rules improves safety,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “The flexibility to take additional rest that the restart provided for a decade, and is providing now, allows drivers to get additional off-duty time and rest, and we shouldn’t be putting restrictions on that—certainly not ones that have been shown to push truck traffic into riskier daytime hours.”
The rulemaking, which originated nearly 10 years ago with petitions from RoadSafe America and ATA, was officially initiated in May 2013 and was originally scheduled to be published in March 2014. But the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review in May 2015, and that means it has been stalled at the White House for a full year.
In presenting the administration’s budget for the DOT in March, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx assured the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee the NPRM would meet a projected April 22 publication date.
“As a top priority, we’ve been working with OMB to get that rule pushed out,” he said at the time.
The latest monthly Report on DOT Significant Rulemakings, just posted for May, has projected a publication date of “Spring 2016.”
With the passage of the Senate bill, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) immediately put out a call to action, noting that the speed limiter requirement "still has a long way to go before becoming law."
"Trucks would become rolling roadblocks with elephant races causing road rage with nearly all drivers," OOIDA says. "While ATA and other big carrier organizations may like speed limiters for their own reasons, like fleet management, they make a driver’s life harder and less safe."