With the Senate debating truck safety priorities on the floor as early as June 17, leaders of American Trucking Associations said they are confident senators will pass a fiscal 2015 transportation bill that would postpone for a year a new federal rule limiting certain times truckers are allowed on the roads.
ATA President Bill Graves said June 17 he expects senators to advance a Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill that would call for not funding last year’s changes to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service restart rules while the agency studies the rule and justifies its safety claims to Congress.
That rule took effect last summer, and it mandates a 34-hour restart time between workweeks for truckers. The restart must account for two 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. off-duty resting periods.
Maine Republican Susan Collins offered the proposal, which was adopted at a June 5 committee hearing by a bipartisan vote of 21-9. At the hearing, Collins pushed back on the 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. requirement saying it “makes no sense whatsoever.” Trucking industry leaders share her position.
“When you take the U.S. trucking fleet and put it on America’s highways at 5:01 Monday morning, we exacerbate traffic congestion,” said ATA Chairman Philip Byrd Sr., president of Charleston, South Carolina-based Bulldog Hiway Express.
David Manning, ATA vice chairman and president of TCW and Tennessee Express in Nashville, Tennessee, added that there “have been some unintended consequences with these hard rules” on the 34-hour-restart.
For Collins’ proposal to take effect, the final bill would need to be signed by President Obama prior to Congress’ adjournment at the end of this year. To get there, the Senate would need to pass its version with the proposal in it. Then congressional funding leaders would need to include the proposal in a final bill that reconciles the differences in the Senate and House bills.
“The House indicated a willingness to yield or acknowledge a willingness to accommodate the language from the Senate side to the bill,” Graves told reporters.
Shortly after Graves’ comments, the White House came out against the Collins amendment, claiming it would boost the “number of hours a truck driver could work from the 70-hour maximum average on the books today, to 82 hours a week.”
But the White House stopped short of threatening to veto the bill, which now could include provisions from fiscal 2015 funding bills for programs at the departments of Justice and Agriculture.
Opponents of Collins’ amendment picked up support after a truck crash this month in New Jersey that killed a comedian and injured fellow comedian Tracy Morgan. New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, both Democrats, told reporters June 16 they plan to undo Collins’ provision. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, and Senate Democratic leaders Charles Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington are expected to help the Garden State senators.
“Truck fatigue is a major cause of truck driver accidents,” Booker said.