Congress reconsiders rest rules for truckers

Dec 13th, 2016 | By | Category: Featured, Uncategorized

By Sarah Glenn

IDAHO FALLS — Trucking companies are breathing a sigh of relief today while road safety watchdogs wring their hands.

Congress tucked language into it’s short-term spending bill that begins to roll back restrictive rules for how long (and when) long-haul truck drivers are required to rest. The whole bill passed the Senate late Friday night. The 63-36 vote came less than an hour before the midnight deadline that would have triggered a government shutdown. President Obama signed the measure shortly after the Senate took action.

The rule they are trying to roll back was put in place by Obama in 2013. It says that after a 70-hour work week drivers have to rest for 34-hours straight. However, during that reset period they also need to be sleeping between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Safety watchdogs hailed it as a good fix to drowsy driving. But after the rollback, they are concerned about the consequences on American roads.

In a letter sent Nov. 10 to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Jackie Novak of the Truck Safety Coalition and Jennifer Tierney of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways wrote that “if this anti-safety measure is enacted, it will result in more overtired and overworked truck drivers driving alongside our loved ones, which will inevitably lead to more crashes, injuries and fatalities. … Clearly, the solution to this pervasive problem is not to add more driving and working time, but rather to consider ways to address and prevent fatigue.”

However, the safety organizations were not able to provide more than anecdotal evidence that this specific rest model was the best for truckers.

That 1-5 a.m. rule also created a few problems for the industry, prompting the federal government to temporarily suspend it.

“The practical effect was that if you didn’t get off until 2 a.m., for example, you would end up taking that whole night off then needing to start those two mandatory rest periods the next night,” said Jason Andrus, CEO of Doug Andrus Distributing, a trucking company based out of Idaho Falls. “You would end up taking 51 hours off to get that mandatory reset.”

Other trucking companies that did not wish to be quoted on the record said that the rules seriously impacted delivery times in an economy that has come to rely more heavily on just-in-time supply chains.

Representatives from Andrus Distributing also pointed out that when that required rest period rolled around, truckers might not be near a place where it was wise to stop. They could be in the middle of nowhere or stuck in a metropolitan area where hotels are expensive — if not booked solid.

“By getting rid of that 1-5 rule it gives us the flexibility to be well-rested and deliver great service,” Andrus said.

Various area trucking companies did not object to the 34-hour reset, but most took issue with the mandatory 1-5 a.m. rest period. The provision would be rolled back with the passing of the bill Friday.

In addition to the federal rule, Doug Andrus Distributing also implements its own rest rules to protect its truckers — as do many other area trucking companies.

“The American Trucking Associations thanks Congress for including what should be a permanent fix to the hours-of-service restart in this Continuing Resolution, and we look forward to its final passage into law to resolve this issue,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear in a statement released by the organization. “Reverting back to the pre-July 2013 restart shifts the emphasis back to safety by removing flawed data from the rulemaking process. The entire industry will now be able to comply with this rule thanks to a common sense approach championed by a bipartisan group of legislators.”

American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry.

While the industry might call them restrictive, rules about trucker rest were championed by safety watchdogs when they were originally implemented. Now that they are being rolled back, safety groups are concerned.

“This action to rip out essential safety protections for hard-working truck drivers who deserve a weekend off for adequate rest and recovery time is yet another example of the grip that corporate trucking interests have on some Members of Congress,” said Joan Claybrook, chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “The American public is scared of sharing the road with exhausted and overworked drivers behind the wheel of a big rig and with good reason.”

According to a press release from Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 4,067 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks in 2015. The number represented a 4 percent increase from 2014 and a 20 percent increase from 2009.

According to CRASH, this is the first time truck crash deaths have exceeded 4,000 since 2008.

Preliminary 2015 federal government data shows 116,000 people were injured in crashes involving large trucks — an increase of 57 percent since 2009. The annual cost to society from crashes involving commercial motor vehicles is estimated to be over $110 billion, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

With both lives and livelihoods on the line, the issue has been a political powder keg for years. Both Andrus and truckers around Idaho point out that the conversation isn’t over until final legislation is signed.

“This has been batted around for a long time,” Andrus said.

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