Ferro testimony before House panel on HOS has ominous ring: An Analysis
FMCSA chief Anne Ferro's testimony before a House subcommitte hints at big changes to Hours of Service.
By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff
There it was, tucked neatly away on the last page of her submitted testimony before the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending last Wednesday.
(The purpose of the hearing was a hoot: “The Price of Uncertainty: How Much Could DOT’s Proposed Billion Dollar Service Rule Cost Consumers This Holiday Season.”
Hey, you folks up there in Washington, the rule isn’t even out yet so how can a rule that’s not scheduled to come out until probably after the holidays impact consumer costs?)
Oh well, back to the main topic.
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In her submitted testimony, Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, was telling the world that major changes are coming in the new Hours of Service rule.
(Time for another sidebar: What a witness actually verbalizes in a hearing is a highly-condensed version of the testimony submitted for the record.)
“We look forward to issuing the final rule and will work with stakeholders and state partners to provide a smooth transition from the current regulations to full compliance with the new requirements,” Ferro said in her submitted testimony.
Now one could argue that any change would require a coordinated effort among the FMCSA, trucking stakeholders and state partners, but if the major tenants of the current rule were left intact, there would be little need for Ferro to make such a statement.
We could only hope that she was referring to a new sleeper berth rule that would give drivers the ability to take a nap and extend the work day, but we believe other major changes are coming, including the reduction of daily driving time from 11 to 10 hours.
This statement seems to give credence that such a change will occur.
“In opposing changes to the current HOS regulations, the motor carrier industry assumes that fatigue-related crashes, which are the target of the HOS rules, have declined sharply, along with crashes as a whole. The data from the Trucks Involved in Fatal Accident (TIFA) reports, however, indicate that the trend in fatigue-coded fatal crashes has not been as consistent as the decline in crashes. The highest percentage of fatigue-coded fatal crashes occurred before the 2003 HOS final rule in 1999 and 2000 (both 2.1 percent) followed by 2 percent in 1994 and 2007, i.e., before and after the rule. The lowest rate occurred before the rule (1.4 percent in 2001) followed by 1.5 percent in 2002, 2004, and 2006, spanning the period before and after the rule.
“While the decline in crashes is welcome, it is not sufficient, and as long as FMCSA’s primary mission is to place safety as the highest priority in its regulation of bus and truck safety, it will continue to identify strategies and rules to reduce serious and fatal crashes involving trucks and buses without imposing unreasonable costs on business and economy as a whole.”
Then the kicker.
“The goal of this rulemaking is to reduce excessively long work hours that increase both the risk of fatigue-related crashes and long-term health problems for drivers. A rule cannot ensure that drivers will be rested, but it can ensure that they have enough time off to obtain adequate rest on a daily and weekly basis,” Ferro said in the submitted testimony.
Ferro, at least for the first time we can recall, also reinforced the position safety advocates have taken concerning the impact of the economy on truck-related crashes.
“Economic conditions also play a part in the number of crashes. The large decrease in truck-related fatality rates from 2007 to 2009 is not unprecedented; similar year-to-year percentage decreases in fatal crash rates occurred in 1980, 1982, 1991, 1992, and other periods of recession,” she said in the submitted testimony.
Ferro also mentioned the listening sessions the agency conducted in gathering input for the new rule.
“The agency held a series of five listening sessions across the nation to provide interested parties with the opportunity to provide ideas and information the agency might consider in developing the NPRM,” she said in the submitted testimony.
Left unmentioned was the overwhelming consensus of the input, especially from truck drivers, the men and women who are on the front lines and experience the HOS rule every day — that the only changed needed to the current rule is the ability to stop the truck and rest when tired without counting that rest period toward the 14 hours of on-duty time.
Now no one in this industry wants fatigued truckers on the highway, but let’s stop and examine what might happen if the daily driving time is reduced to 10 hours.
Those who support the 10-hour day point out that such a rule would add 40,000 trucking driving jobs to the economy. Some who oppose the 10-hour day say it would be more than that.
How many fatigued drivers would that add to the highways, let alone the fact that many of those drivers likely would be inexperienced newcomers chugging down the road at 65 mph pulling 80,000 pounds?
Talk about added danger.
Here’s hoping for the best (no change) and preparing for and fearing the worst (major changes).
Lyndon Finney, editor of The Trucker can be reached to comment on this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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