Diminishing Window for Hours of Service Changes
On July 29, 2014, the U.S. Senate convened a hearing regarding “Opportunities and Challenges for Improving Truck Safety on Our Highways.” There were five witnesses in attendance: the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the head of a leading safety advocacy group, a representative of the Teamsters, a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), and the head of safety policy for the American Trucking Association (ATA). While many topics were discussed, one primary issue was the hours of service (HOS) rules that went into effect in July 2013. Of the five witnesses, only the ATA representative was in favor of suspending the current HOS rules in favor of more study.
While many in the trucking community have strongly advocated for a roll back and/or suspension of the July 2013 HOS changes in favor of a closer look at the costs and unintended consequences of the current rules, the July 29 hearing was a clear signal from our lawmakers that there will be no change in the foreseeable future. While I don’t enjoy being the bearer of bad news to those severely impacted by the July 2013 HOS changes, I do want to honestly summarize where the industry efforts are concentrated.
- In the House of Representatives, Representative Hanna from New York introduced legislation called the TRUE Safety Act that has garnered 72 co-sponsors. However, with Congress shifting to election campaigns for the rest of the year and having pushed the highway bill discussion into next May, this bill will likely have to be reintroduced next year. In the Senate, a similar bill—championed by Senator Collins from Maine—did not make it past the Senate floor.
- On June 7, there was a tragic truck crash involving Tracy Morgan and a Walmart driver who, despite being within current HOS rules, admitted to being tired and possibly awake for a continuous 24 hour period prior to the accident. Despite the fact that this is a complex case involving both speed and fatigue, it has been easily reduced to a talking point of “beware of tired truck drivers.” There is no doubt this crash halted any momentum that had been built by supporters of the Hanna and Collins bills.
- The deal to extend federal highway funding through May 2015 means that only emergency measures and legislation regarding transportation will be addressed before then. There is a clear trend toward larger, more encompassing bills in Congress instead of single, stand-alone bills passing like the Hanna and Collins bills.
- With a new session of Congress starting in January, all previously introduced bills will need to be reintroduced.
- The FMCSA, safety groups, CVSA, and Teamsters are all in favor of the current rules.
When you combine all of the above, the story takes us to May 2015 with no change. By that time, the HOS rules will be close to two years old. Instead of rolling back a recent change, the effort will switch to changing an existing rule.