Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent a letter last week to Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire asking her not to obstruct his agency’s proposed hours-of-service rule changes. Secretary LaHood, himself a Republican, has been a strong advocate for better motor carrier safety and strongly endorses the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed HOS changes, which are aimed at further reducing the number of fatigue-related commercial vehicle crashes and deaths on U.S. roads and highways.
Secretary LaHood told Senator Ayotte that “Americans expect safe travel each and every day,” especially when they are sharing the roads with large commercial vehicles weighing several tons. “Last year, nearly 4,000 people died in crashes involving large trucks and, by our estimates, approximately 500 of those deaths involved an overly tired commercial driver,” Secretary LaHood explained in his letter.
According to his letter, Secretary LaHood learned that Sen. Ayotte might introduce an amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds “to finalize, enforce, or implement the hours-of-service regulations proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.” He then urged Sen. Ayotte not to introduce the amendment “in the interest of highway safety.”
Some legislators and trucking industry officials have criticized the proposed HOS changes ever since the FMCSA announced them on December 29, 2010. The strongest objections involved three of the proposed changes: a reduction of the maximum allowable driving hours within a 24-hour period from 11 to 10; a requirement that two periods between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. be included in every 34-hour restart and only one restart be allowed per week; and a requirement that commercial drivers take a 30-minute break every 7 hours, which would amount to one hour per every 14- or 16-hour driving window, thereby reducing daily on-duty time from 14 to 13 hours.
Secretary LaHood said that Ayotte’s amendment “would prevent the FMCSA from applying the most comprehensive and up-to-date data and analysis to the issue of driver fatigue and allowable hours of service.”
He also warned that a disruption to the forthcoming rule “potentially undermines the entire regulatory process” (which seems to be about every Republican legislator’s goal these days) and “create confusion and uncertainty among State and Federal enforcement officials, as well as within the motor carrier industry.”