Congress and Another Shenanigan to Impede Truck and Motorcoach Safety

Recently, in order to stem to tide of catastrophic truck and (particularly motorcoach) accidents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration  (FMCSA) recently proposed a change to its Hours-of-Service regulations requiring the extension of the current once-a-week 24-hour break from driving to a 34-hour break. While this proposal has both benefits (in safety terms) while it would create some scheduling challenges for truck and motorcoach companies, its passage is looking doubtful because of yet another episode of Congressional interference.

As most of you know, Congressional bills involving major funding often include “riders” addressing totally different subjects. Included in a recent $1.1 trillion appropriations bill was a rider to extend the once-a-week “Restart Time” of commercial vehicle drivers from 24 to 34 hours, to also encompass two successive period between 1 and 5 AM. The recent House’s version of the overall appropriate’s bill included language to halt the implementation of this change. The draft bill with these restrictions is soon to be passed onto the Republican-controlled Senate. Congress also insisted that the FMCSA submit a report justifying why this increased restart interval would contribute to travel safety by these modes

In the trucking sector, the extension of the restart provision is likely simply another measure to curb periodic abuses of the already-tight hours-of-service regulations applying to this sector, although they are hard to enforce given the enormity of our nation’s truck fleet in comparison to the paucity of enforcement officers, and the ease of trickery by truck and motorcoach operators in hiding, discarding or falsely filling out their “driver’s logs.” In contrast, in the motorcoach sector, which deploys only about 33,000 vehicles, this measure is likely designed to compensate for the exemption from “shift inversion” provisions granted to this sector: By comparison, a truck driver cannot begin a shift more than three hours earlier or later than the shift he or she drove the day before. The motorcoach industry is not subject to this provision, and thus, as long as a driver has eight hours between shifts, he or she can begin his or her shift at any time, even when, the day before, his or her body was sound asleep during much of the same shift to be driven the following day.

Eliminating this exemption from the motorcoach industry is a much more important need, and would contribute far more to safety, than would an extension of the “restart provision,” which presumably would apply to both the trucking and motorcoach sectors. However, without removing that exemption, the extended restart provision would at least provide another measure to minimize driver fatigue, since even under current regulations, it is impossible for a driver to get eight hours sleep if he or she has a full eight hours between shifts. Worse, there is no way to ensure that a driver sleeps at all during this interval – even while technology exists to verify it.

So Congress’ continued impedance of the FMCSA’s efforts to improve roadway safety has one again placed the general public (most only our highways) in jeopardy. This impedance is great for destinations, and will help keep our casinos’ slot machines and our amusement parks filled, even if one motorcoach out of every 10,009 flies off a cliff [these are only hypothetical numbers to illustrate the point; actual numbers differ significantly]. But the point is, Congress’ interference once again is designed to help corporate and, in some cases, local and state government entities at the expense of public safety.