WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Thursday sent a strongly-worded letter to several members of the Senate and House Appropriations committees asking them not to include language suspending the 34-hour restart provision of the Hours of Service rule.
Although he didn’t say, it is quite possible the letter was in response to news reports Wednesday that said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would re-introduce language suspending the restart in the appropriations bill that would keep the federal government in operation after Dec. 11.
The Senate Appropriations Committee included in a funding bill earlier this year language to suspend the controversial portion of the rule for a year while a study is completed on the provision’s efficacy, but the legislation died when the appropriations bill was pulled from the Senate floor over procedural issues.
Members of the House vowed to oppose the amendment when the appropriations bill reached the House floor, and indeed appeared to be gearing up to continue that opposition in its version of the new funding bill, which should be completed Monday, according to a House Appropriations Committee spokesperson.
Within hour of the letter being sent, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety announced it would hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. EST Monday at the Capitol to express vocal opposition to the suspension of the 34-hour restart provision.
The advocates’ group noted that while the Senate had passed Collins’ rider, there had been no discussion or debate on an amendment by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and 13 other Democratic senators on their amendment to stop Collins’ amendment.
Collins’ office took exception to the claims Foxx made in his letters, which were identical with the exception of the lawmaker to whom it was addressed.
“Unfortunately, the inflammatory and inaccurate assertions in this letter are what we have come to expect from the Department of Transportation regarding the regulations governing truck drivers,” said Kevin Kelley, communications director for Collins. “The letter is filled with rhetoric and not only ignores the Department's own data, but also the peer review of its data. It also ignores facts outlined in a letter from the former Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Annette Sandberg who stated that Senator Collins’ proposed changes would make the roads safer. The Obama Administration forces truck drivers to operate more often during the congested morning rush hours when school buses, commuters, and other travelers are on the road and when the FMCSA’s own data show the highest incidence of accidents.”
Sandberg is now part of a transportation consulting firm in the state of Washington.
Copies of Foxx’s letters were posted on the advocates’ website at www.saferoads.org, on Dec. 3. Foxx’s letter is dated Dec. 4.
“I write to register my strong objection to a proposal under consideration for the Omnibus
Appropriations Conference agreement that would suspend the 34-hour restart provision of the Department of Transportation's truck safety regulations,” Foxx wrote. “I am compelled by the evidence available to me to implore you to reject any such suspension. The provision at issue is a central element of a comprehensive rule that ensures that truck drivers have adequate rest when operating on our highways. It is essential for the safety of our truck drivers and the safety of families and loved ones who share the road with them.”
Foxx told lawmakers he was seriously concerned that any suspension would put lives at risk as it would increase the maximum allowable work limits for truck drivers from an average of 70 hours per week to over 82.
However, repeated studies have shown that very few drivers work 70 hours a week, much less 82, and that those hours are only possible in a perfect world of no congestion, waits at the loading docks, bad weather or other things beyond drivers’ control.
“This regulatory provision (like all other aspects of the rule) was developed based on sound data and analysis,” Foxx wrote. “The evidence clearly shows that truck drivers are better rested and more alert after two nights of sleep than one night, and that unending 80-hour work weeks lead to driver fatigue and compromise highway safety.”
Furthermore, he said, a major field study mandated under MAP-21 that included over 100 drivers completed since the rule took effect, confirms that nighttime drivers with only one night of recovery score significantly poorer on multiple kinds of safety assessments.
In contrast, no data or other evidence suggests that the new restart is either jeopardizing safety or harming the nation's transportation productivity, he wrote.
What Foxx failed to point out was that of the 100 drivers in the survey, 44 were local drivers, 26 were regional drivers and 36 were over-the-road drivers, which meant that only one-third of the respondents typically make use of the restart.
“I fully respect the prerogative of Congress to challenge our approach. However, I fear that this measure will result in a lower level of safety. I therefore urge you to consider alternatives that fall short of repealing or suspending any portion of DOT's 2011 truck safety rule. The safety of the driving public is at stake,” Foxx concluded.
The letter was sent to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations; Sen. Richard Shelby, ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations; Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations; Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations; Rep. Tom Latham, D-Iowa, chairman of the Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Arizona, ranking member of the Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and Collins, who is ranking member of the Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
* On approved credit