Mixed Reaction

| September 11, 2005

Legislation Contains Hours Exemptions
The $286.4 billion Highway Reauthorization Bill includes a passage exempting a variety of truck drivers from hours-of-service limits.

For example, the exemptions allow movie producers such as Time Warner and Disney to let drivers rest eight hours daily, instead of the standard 10 hours, on routes within 100 miles of production sites. Propane haulers also get an exemption during winter months and during pipeline emergencies. Other industries exempted include utilities and agriculture.

The propane exemption is primarily a safety issue, said Robert Baylor, communications director of the National Propane Gas Association. Without an exemption, propane distributors were forced to leave some customers in the lurch as they ran out of fuel or suffered gas leaks in their houses, Baylor said. “Shouldn’t our customers be serviced if they run into an emergency?” he said.

Now propane distributors won’t have to rotate drivers as frequently as drivers reach the end of their legal hours, Baylor said. “We expect to save about $90 million in labor costs. These are drivers that marketers would not have to hire to handle emergencies.”

The exemptions cover such specific industries that they won’t affect the majority of owner-operators, said Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Activist groups Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tried Truckers say the exemptions make highways more dangerous. They argue that more drivers will go without sleep and therefore will be less attentive and more accident-prone.

CRASH and PATT were unable to keep the exemptions out of the bill, but they succeeded on a larger issue: The bill includes no language converting the current hours of service rule into statutory law, as the Bush administration had sought.

That conversion would have kept the rule in effect despite litigation brought against it by CRASH, PATT and Public Citizen. A federal appeals court judge ruled in July 2004 that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had to rewrite the current hours rule because it had failed to consider driver health in devising it.

The FMCSA must publish in the Federal Register a revised rule before the current extension runs out Sept. 30. On July 28, the FMCSA sent the revised final rule to the Office of Management and Budget for approval before publication.

The Bush administration “can provide no comment on the current HOS rulemaking until the rule is published in the Federal Register,” said James Lewis, an FMCSA spokesman. “FMCSA is on track for completing the rulemaking by the September 30, 2005, deadline set by Congress.”

Several industry groups reported that the compliance and enforcement dates may be changed in the revised rule. The Truckload Carriers Association, for example, said there might be a “soft enforcement period” of a few months to allow carriers to adjust to the rule.

The current hours rule strikes a good balance, Craig said. “If you don’t have enough regulation, carriers will use and abuse owner-operators as much as they can. If the rules are too strict, then it affects operations and their ability to make a living in this business.”
-Lance Orr

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