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Trucking Industry Opposes Safety Rules

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The trucking industry's main trade group, the American Trucking Association (ATA), opposes new driver hours of service (HOS) rules, which were published in December 2011 and would require specified rest periods for drivers after long hours of contnuous work. Starting July 1, 2013, the new HOS rules would cut the number of hours a driver can work from 82 to 70 per week, require drivers to take 34 consecutive hours off before restarting their work week, and take a 30 minute break before driving more than eight hours.

Last month the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) denied a request by the ATA for a three month stay of the implementation of these rules, saying it was “…unwilling to sacrifice what may be several months of public safety benefits.”

The ATA did not stop at the FMCSA in its effort to fight the implementation of the rules. ATA makes significant political contributions to members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Committee's subcommittee on highways and transit held a hearing on June 19th on the HOS rules. ATA testified against implementation of the rules. At the hearing, recipients of ATA's donations, subcommittee Chariman, Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and committee Chairman Bull shuster (R-Pa.), voiced concern that the new rules would hurt business. Following the hearing, the four senior members of the Committee sent a letter to Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation, asking that the government delay the July 1 implementation date of the new driver hours of service rules.

The letter, signed by Chairman Shuster, committee ranking member Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.), subcommittee chairman Petri and subcommittee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said “…moving forward under the current schedule would be an inefficient use of the industry, enforcement community and FMCSA resources if the HOS is altered by the court’s decision.” The referenced court decision involves the U.S. Court of Appeals deciding two lawsuits. The first is a February 2012 lawsuit filed by ATA to stop the HOS rule implementation. In a separate suit, Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and two individual truck drivers sued to make the HOS rules stronger.

Oral arguments in the case were heard March 15 and the court is expected to rule sometime in June. Concerns have been raised that depending on how and when the court rules, industry and law enforcement will have insufficient time to prepare and train for any court-ordered changes before the July 1 implementation date.

According to OpenSecrets.org, donations in the 2012 election cycle by ATA to members of the subcommittee on highways and transit total more than $1 million. Donations by ATA to the signers of the letter to Secetary LaHood are as follows: Tom Petri (R-Wis.)-$44,000 over his career, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)- approximately $44,000 over his career, Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)- $3,500 for his 2012 election, and Nick Rahall (D-W.VA.)- $6,000 in 2012. Rep. DeFazio also has received $29,000 in campaign donations from the pro-industry Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

As the FMCSA recognizes, truck driver safety affects public safety. Tractor trailer truck crashes are often caused by driver fatigue. For obvious reasons, the results of these crashes are typically catastrophic. It may be practical to wait on the U.S. Court of Appeals' decision before implementing the HOS rules. However, political cronyism should not be influencing public safety. The FMCSA's position on implementation of the HOS rules just last month should not be undercut the next month by politicians whose re-election campaings are being partially funded by the ATA.