Trucker-Rest Exemptions May ‘Devour’ U.S. Rule Before It Starts

Trucking Rules Spur Call for Exemptions
Trade groups representing farm retailers, moving-and-storage companies and ready-mix concrete contractors are among those seeking exemptions to the current rules that limit driving time to 11 hours a day. Photo: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association isn’t waiting for the outcome of a 16-year debate over how long truckers can drive each day. It’s asking for a pass from the rules, however they turn out.

The Silver Spring, Maryland-based association joins a growing number of industries, from water-well drillers to utilities to agricultural retailers, that have obtained or are seeking relief from a proposed rule that would shorten the amount of time a trucker can be on the road to 10 hours from 11.

So many groups are lining up for exemptions the measure may end up being gutted, said Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which favors the regulation.

“If you accept the rationale for these industries, why would you have any logical reason to deny every other single industry?” said Jasny, who is also general counsel for the Washington-based coalition of consumer groups and insurers. “The exceptions devour the rule.”

The 10-hour regulation, proposed by President Barack Obama’s administration last December, would cost the industry $1 billion, the Transportation Department estimates. That makes it one of the seven most expensive regulations under consideration, according to the White House.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is among lawmakers asking the White House to keep the 11-hour daily limit, saying fatalities have fallen since it took effect and that the cost of a shorter day is too high.

The House Oversight and Government Reform’s regulatory affairs subcommittee will examine whether the regulations would add to consumer costs in a hearing tomorrow.

Practical Reasons

Aside from the financial impact, there are practical reasons for not applying the rule to all businesses, groups such as the concrete association say.

Once concrete is mixed with water, it starts to set, said Robert Garbini, president and chief executive officer of the group. That and the unpredictability of construction should exempt cement-truck drivers, who typically work 17 miles or less from their plants and rarely drive for the majority of their day, he said.

Hours-of-service rules are “based on a long-haul driver sitting in a truck on a monotonous road seeing the lines go by,” Garbini said.

The dispute dates back to 1995, when Congress passed a law to eliminate the Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulated trucking. The legislation ordered the Transportation Department to write new hours-of-service rules for trucking.

The department has been unable to promulgate a regulation that stood up to court challenges. In 2004, the George W. Bush administration imposed an 11-hour limit. That also has been challenged, by groups including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, leading to the current impasse.

Most-Dangerous Profession

The White House is reviewing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s final version of the regulations, which may be released by the end of this year.

Cutting the number of hours drivers can spend behind the wheel would save billions of dollars by reducing health-care costs and accidents, the administration argues. The profession has more on-the-job deaths than any other, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were 3,380 truck-related fatalities in 2009, of which 503 were truckers, according to the latest annual data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s down from 4,245 in 2008. As recently as 2006, there were more than 5,000 fatalities.

Early Exemptions

Hours-of-service exemptions were written into law for more than a dozen industries even before the current round of lobbying started last December. They include trucks hauling equipment to movie-filming locations, construction sites and oil fields; carrying goods to retail stores and working for grape growers in New York state.

Some of them say they won’t be able to survive if they’re forced to adhere to rules designed for cross-country freight haulers in their specialized industries.

Farmers and agricultural businesses have had an exemption since 1995, said Richard Gupton, senior vice president for public policy at the Agricultural Retailers Association. When the Transportation Department in 2008 cited a Missouri trucker carrying the farm chemical anhydrous ammonia for driving too long, it created a question about what was covered by the exemption, he said.

Fertilizer Chemical

A temporary, two-year exemption for anhydrous ammonia carriers has shown the chemical, used as a fertilizer, could be carried safely even without hours-of-service rules, Gupton said. The exemption, which would expire in 2012 without further action, applies to shipments to a store from a port or terminal in a 100-mile radius, he said.

Gupton’s group, along with the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the Fertilizer Institute, commended 40 House members for sponsoring legislation in October to give all trucks carrying commodities and farm supplies in the supply chain an exemption, he said.

“These are very experienced, well-trained employees handling the material,” Gupton said. “Most of the time they’re not on the road. They’re on the farm or at the retail location.”

The list of groups lining up for special treatment suggests they’re acting out of convenience rather than necessity, according to Jasny of the highway safety organization.

Disney Fireworks

Jasny opposed Walt Disney Co. and 61 other fireworks purveyors this year when the world’s biggest theme-park operator asked to be included in an exemption granted to the pyrotechnics industry around the U.S. Independence Day holiday on July 4. Earlier this month, he argued against an application by Western Pilot Service, a company that provides fuel to planes fighting forest fires.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration granted the exemption in the first case to every member of the American Pyrotechnics Association except a company with hazardous-materials violations. A decision is pending in the second application.

Industries asking for an hours-of-service exemption have to explain why they need one and for how long, according to the agency’s website.

In making its case, the American Moving and Storage Association said its drivers’ jobs are different from the harried, “just-in-time” general freight industry.

Movers spend a lot of time packing and unpacking, said Paul Oakley, senior vice president of government relations for the group, which represents companies like UniGroup Worldwide in St. Louis and Evansville, Indiana-based Atlas Van Lines.

Oakley’s group wants to keep the 11-hour driving limit and to allow non-driving work after the 14-hour on-duty time limit proposed by the FMCSA.

“It’s not a be-at-the-loading-dock at 6 o’clock kind of thing,” Oakley said. “We can’t be in the middle of loading someone’s house and saying we have to go.”

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