WASHINGTON—Over the strong objections of the Department of Transportation, a Senate committee moved to block a new "hours of service" rule for truckers that is opposed by the trucking industry and its tire suppliers. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee within the Senate Appropriations Committee, sponsored the $53.4 billion appropriations package for DOT in fiscal year 2001. It includes language expressly forbidding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from using any of its funds to implement the proposed work rules for truckers it issued May 2.
The bill passed the full Appropriations Committee by voice vote June 13. While certain provisions of the bill may meet strong opposition on the Senate floor and later when the legislation moves to the House, the funding block for the "hours of service" proposal is not likely to be among them.
Under the proposal, truckers would have to take at least 12 hours off during every 24-hour work shift, including 10 consecutive hours off. Current rules require eight hours off for every 18. Drivers also would have to carry "black box" data recorders as proof of compliance.
The FMCSA insists it needs the proposed rule to reduce driver-related fatigue and achieve its goal of cutting truck-related fatalities in half by 2010. In 1999, 5,203 people were killed in the U.S. in accidents involving trucks, the agency said.
However, trucking fleet operators and their tire suppliers complained the plan will hamper their operations and hurt their businesses.
Truck fleets will have to hire an estimated 30 percent more drivers and put 30 percent more trucks on the road to get loads to their destinations on time, opponents said. New tire makers and retreaders won't benefit, since total truck mileage wouldn't increase, and the added costs may cause smaller trucking firms to shut their doors, costing tire and retread suppliers substantial business.
Among the most vociferous opponents of the proposed rule is the Alabama Truckers Association, from the state Sen. Shelby represents. Gene Vanderau, association director of safety and member services, estimated the regulation will cut productivity in the industry by 25 percent.
DOT Secretary Rodney E. Slater sent Sen. Shelby a letter June 8, in an unsuccessful effort to get the senator to drop the language killing the "hours of service" proposal.
"This proposal emphasizes rest and is science-based," Mr. Slater wrote. "I am not prepared to stop moving forward on an issue that has not been substantially addressed in 60 years and that promises so much in safety improvement."
The FMCSA has extended the comment period on the proposed rule from July 31 until Oct. 30.
A related article on how this proposal impacts independent tire dealerships is on page 14.