New HOS changes

The controversial revisions to the hours of service rule are a bit closer to publication now that the White House Office of Management and Budget has received the Department of Transportation's proposed language. Countless truck driving jobs may be impacted by the outcome of what has been a very contentious debate in recent years.

It is not uncommon for the OMB to utilize a full 90-day period in order to complete its review. Once that work is done, proposed rules are returned to the Department of Transportation for any additional alterations needed and then sent to the Federal Register so that the publication process can be completed. The process often moves rapidly, and therefore the potential exists for publication to occur toward the end of February or perhaps even earlier.
Original scheduling suggested that the proposal could see publication on October 28, though the process has been delayed – something that is not unusual on the federal regulatory landscape.

The rule revision is an attempt by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to resolve ongoing litigation with the Teamsters union, Public Citizen, and other advocacy and interest groups.

On two occasions dating back to 2003, those groups prevailed in court, resulting in the requirement that work hours be more stringently regulated. Both times, the agency mounted defenses of the regulations as written. However, in 2009, the agency adopted a different stance, stating that it would indeed take a fresh look at the rule. As a result, Public Citizen agreed to stay the litigation, but reserved the right to reinstate its complaint if it deemed the revisions insufficient.

The nuts and bolts of the proposed alterations will not be released until the date of publication, though trucking advocacy groups are standing by due to statements made by the FMCSA earlier in its rulemaking process.

In addition to other revisions, the FMCSA indicated that it is considering trimming driving time one hour, from 11 to 10 permitted each day. A proposal was also on the table that would afford drivers a daily 60-minute break by restricting true duty time to 13 hours instead of 14 hours. Also notable is a proposed modification that would alter the current 34-hour restart to encompass two distinct periods between 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., which drivers could use once each week.

Shipping and trucking interests have asserted that the proposed alterations would do little to advance the cause of safety and would result in significantly increased costs for trucking companies and related entities. Buoyed by growing support from legislators, representatives from American Trucking Associations have pledged to file a lawsuit in the event the agency succeeds in implementing its changes.

Congressional Republicans have been using the proposed changes, and their potential effects on truck driving jobs, to argue against what they see as an intrusive onslaught of new federal regulation.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have requested that President Obama abandon the proposed revision in favor of the existing rule, stating that such a course of action would prevent an additional $1 billion in regulatory costs.

Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee John Mica, R-Fla., along with three fellow committee members, sent the President a letter promising to provide strenuous oversight of any new burdens on trucking companies resulting from a rule change, though no specifics were given as to what that might entail.

A legislative proposal to halt the revision was introduced by Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.,  though it was ultimately left out of the transportation appropriations bill just approved by the Senate.