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‘Unintended consequences’ of restart rule on safety hammered home by ATA in conference

While much has been said about the impact those provisions have had on industry productivity, ATA and others have insisted that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration passed them with little evidence that they would have a positive impact on safety. In fact, the ATA claims, the provisions actually compromise highway safety, the “unintended consequences” frequently mentioned during the conference.

By CLIFF ABBOTT
The Trucker Staff

6/18/2014

ARLINGTON, Va. — The words “unintended consequences” were hammered home in the American Trucking Associations’ June 17 teleconference. The media event was hosted to preempt efforts to repeal an amendment passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee to the current federal Highway Appropriations bill, known as “Map-21.”

The amendment, introduced by Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, would suspend enforcement of current Hours of Service regulations that require periods between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on two consecutive nights to be included in the 34-hour restart and the restriction that only one restart can be taken in a 168-hour period until a study can be conducted to ascertain the safety benefits.

While much has been said about the impact those provisions have had on industry productivity, ATA and others have insisted that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration passed them with little evidence that they would have a positive impact on safety. In fact, the ATA claims, the provisions actually compromise highway safety, the “unintended consequences” frequently mentioned during the conference.

The amendment was passed by the committee on a 21-9 bipartisan vote.

Senators Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, have indicated their intent to introduce another amendment that strikes the language adopted in the amendment, citing highway safety as the motivating factor. Both serve in states that are heavily unionized, including the Teamsters Union, which has spoken out against the Collins amendment. New Jersey is also the location of a highly publicized accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan that caused the death of a passenger and injured four others.

Stressing the industry’s commitment to safety, former Kansas Governor and current ATA President and CEO Bill Graves listed a number of safety regulations the ATA has supported, including reduced speed limits, automated speed limiters on trucks, electronic logging devices and a national drug and alcohol testing clearinghouse. “We understand the moral imperative of safety, as well as the economic imperative,” he said.

Regarding the Collins amendment, Graves said, “The ATA thinks pushing commercial vehicle traffic out to rush hour is a fatal flaw in the rulemaking that certainly negates any safety benefit.” Graves claimed that in ATA meetings with the FMCSA, Administrator Anne Ferro and others have admitted recognition of the unintended consequences of the ruling but supported the implementation, anyway.

Phil Byrd, ATA chairman and president and CEO of Charleston, South Carolina-based Bulldog Hiway Transport, cited issues at his company with the HOS restart provisions. “I asked Anne Ferro,” he said, ‘how can a driver that takes 40 hours off after 160 hours be less rested and less safe than a driver who takes 34 hours off after 168 hours?”

Byrd also addressed traffic congestion caused by the restart provisions. “When you put the nation’s trucking fleet on the road at 5:00 on Monday,” he said, “it exacerbates traffic congestion; it exacerbates pollution, and it exacerbates safety.”

Dave Manning, ATA Vice Chairman and President of Nashville, Tennessee-based TCW and Tennessee Express, discussed issues the current restart provisions are causing for his company’s drivers. Stating that his company runs both day and night shifts, he claimed that night shift drivers can’t take advantage of the 34-hour restart because of the requirement for two 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. periods. “Night shift drivers are asking for transfers to the day shift as a result,” he said.

Another unintended consequence, he said, was that a driver who misses a day isn’t allowed to restart his 70-hour clock because 160 hours haven’t passed. The result, he said, “If a driver misses a day of work, he can’t make that day up.”

To bolster their claim that the FMCSA used faulty data in its rulemaking, statistics heavyweight Rebecca Brewster, president of the American Transportation Research Institute, was introduced next. Brewster spoke of three published ATRI studies: one predicting the HOS ruling’s impact on safety before it was implemented, one showing actual results and another analyzing FMCSA data on the impact. In ATRI surveys, she claimed, “52 percent of drivers said they spend more time in congested traffic.” Brewster also stated that “66 percent of drivers said they were more fatigued as a result of the rules changes.”

In a study of the FMCSA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis, Brewster said, “we found no data to support continuation of the restart provisions.”

Brewster cited two specific data sets to refute the rulemaking. One compared the amount of rest drivers received under the new and old restart provisions, finding only a six-minute difference between the two. The other studied incidents of lane deviation, an indicator of fatigue levels, finding less than a tenth of a percent of difference between drivers in the two groups.

“It really does call into question the implementation of the rules,” she said.

During the concluding question-and-answer session, ATA Chief of Legislative Affairs Chris Spear explained that the bill, passed in the House of Representatives last week, should come to a vote in the Senate within the next week. After passage in both chambers, a conference committee comprising members from both bodies will meet to iron out the differences before the appropriations bill is submitted to the White House for signature. “We feel confident that the bill will be passed and signed,” he said.

In a video posted on Youtube and included on the ATA website, Spears also expressed confidence in passage of the measure. “The likelihood of this passing is very high,” he said, “so it’s not really a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’”

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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