Congressional lawmakers late yesterday approved a measure to suspend for nine months language in a Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that established regulations governing when commercial truck drivers must take required breaks before getting back on the road.
The measure, contained in a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill for the rest of the 2015 fiscal year, sets aside two controversial provisions of the DOT rule: that drivers are required to take their 34-hour rest break once every seven days, and that they would be forced to include in the rest cycle two breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. over two consecutive days. The changes effectively reduced to 70 from 82 the number of hours a driver could work in a seven-day week. The 34-hour rest cycle would be maintained.
The measure, proffered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), suspends those provisions while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the DOT subagency that crafted the rules, conducts a comprehensive study—with input from the agency's Office of Inspector General—to see if the changes are truly justified.
The spending bill now goes to the full House and Senate for floor votes. Congress is racing against a Thursday deadline for passing a spending bill to avoid another shutdown of the federal government.
Supporters of the Collins amendment, who maintain that the DOT language is unsupported by science and that it forces many drivers to be on the road with commuters during congested morning rush hours, hailed House and Senate appropriations committee members for their action. "Small business truckers know from personal experience that current restart restrictions compromise safety by forcing them onto the roads" during the most dangerous hours of morning traffic, said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents the nation's independent owner-operators.
DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, who opposes the Collins amendment, said the restart provisions are based on the best available science. In a blog post Monday on DOT's website, Foxx said the language is designed to safeguard drivers, and the public at large, against the risk of driver fatigue, which can sneak up on drivers without their knowing it. Foxx acknowledged that few drivers put in 75- to 80-hour workweeks. However, he added that the rules were "not a solution looking for a problem."