The House of Representatives yesterday passed a $55.3 billion fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development that includes language allowing twin 33-foot trailers to operate nationwide on the Interstate Highway System.
The bill also requires that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a subagency of the Department of Transportation, conduct a more thorough study into the effect of its controversial rule governing a truck driver's hours of service.
The House bill must still be reconciled with the Senate version, which is being reviewed and debated by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is unclear if either provision—or any truck-related provision—will be included in the Senate version.
Currently, federal law places a 28-foot limit on the length of each trailer hooked in tandem behind a tractor running on the interstate system. Eighteen states currently allow 33-foot twin-trailers to run on their parts of the interstate. Opponents such as the Teamsters Union argue the highway network's merge lanes and on-off ramps were not designed to accommodate tractor-trailers that, with the longer trailers, would measure 84 feet in length. Supporters, notably Frederick W. Smith, chairman and CEO of Memphis-based FedEx Corp., maintain the longer trucks will increase truck productivity by optimizing each trailer's cubic capacity. They also contend that trucks carrying 33-foot trailers with longer wheelbases will handle with more stability than rigs hauling 28-foot trailers.
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, supported the language.
The provisions of the driver hours-of-service rule would require drivers to take a 34-hour rest break only once every seven days, and include in the rest cycle two breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. over two consecutive days. Opponents, notably the trucking industry, said the rules would create a safety risk by removing drivers from the highways during their least crowded hours and forcing many on the road during morning rush hours with millions of commuters.
In December, Congress approved language to repeal the provisions for nine months while FMCSA further studied the issue. The language was included in a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government for the balance of the 2015 fiscal year.
The FY 2016 appropriations bill requires FMCSA to demonstrate that the driver "restart" restrictions improves driver health and safety. Opponents of the agency's rule said it requires drivers to change schedules they are accustomed to keeping and could sideline them when they are not tired.