Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) offered and then withdrew an IFDA-supported amendment to improve driver break-time flexibility during a March 9 House consideration on the highway reauthorization measure, H.R. 3. The proposed amendment would allow for an additional two hours of driver break-time in the daily "on-duty" calculation under the hours of service rules.
"We are disappointed that we weren't able to resolve this now on the floor of the House, but we are determined to keep working to gain additional flexibility in the rules," David French, IFDA senior vice president of government relations, said in a statement yesterday. "The current rules are straining customer service obligations for foodservice distributors, are forcing distributors to add more drivers and trucks to the nation's roads, and are adding significant costs to distributing food in this country."
IFDA and the Corporate Transportation Coalition, of which IFDA is a member, have been lobbying in support the Boozman language since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposed new driver hours requirements on motor freight carriers in 2003. The new rules increased the drive time from ten to eleven hours but reduced total time on duty to 14 continuous hours from the previous limit of 15 hours. The rules were overturned in court, and the agency is now in the process of a new rulemaking to resolve the court's objections. Congress stepped in last year to extend the new rules until September 2005.
French observed that changes in the duty time requirements are necessary because the new rules do not improve safety or driver health for many short-haul industries. "We believe that the limits on driver rest breaks inevitably will lead to a tired driver facing a 'lose-lose' situation. Either you push harder to get home in time or you have to shut down completely and spend the night on the road," French said. "We think everyone would be better off if the driver could pull of the road for an hour for a rest break before completing the route."
Despite the temporary setback, French praised Boozman's efforts. "Dr. Boozman has worked very hard to develop this important amendment. His decision to withdraw the amendment preserves our ability to continue educating Congress and federal regulators about the need for a more flexible rule. The amendment was pro-safety, pro-driver and also good for the economy; and we look forward to continuing to work with Congressman Boozman to enact his language."