Story as written by Bill Tomson, Politico
12/16/14 2:00 PM EST
Bakers across the country — the shops that provide the bagels, donuts and bread for supermarket shelves — are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that Congress has eased a couple of trucking restrictions that have put a strain on their deliveries over the past 16 months.
When President Barack Obama signs the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package passed by the Senate Saturday night, keeping the federal government running for the rest of fiscal 2015, he simultaneously will be blocking funds used by the Department of Transportation to enforce a rule that requires truck drivers be off duty from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. for two consecutive mornings before they can restart their work week. He’ll also be stopping the enforcement of a rule that prevents drivers from restarting their work week before seven days are up.
The changes, buried on page 1,443 of the 1,603-page bill, were penned by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). She doesn’t believe in the need for the rules enacted by the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on July 1, 2013, as part of its Hours of Service requirements.
“As a result of unintended consequences of these regulations, more trucks have been forced on our nation’s roads during the most congested morning hours — when commuters are traveling to work and children are traveling to school,” she says in a statement regarding the passage of the legislation.
The rules have been particularly hard on bakeries. The hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. are key delivery times for bakeries that need to get fresh product on the shelves as early as possible, said Mike Goscinski, a spokesman for the American Bakers Association, which also found fault with the FMCSA study used to support the rules. The requirements have forced America’s bread producers to hire more drivers to allow for the mandated break times.
The baking industry’s drivers generally take Tuesdays and Saturdays off, he said.
“We represent the third largest fleet of trucks on the road in the United States,” Goscinski said. “Bread is delivered between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., and our drivers don’t necessarily have two consecutive days off because of the demand for fresh-baked products to be on the shelves of supermarkets each day.”
The DOT didn’t go down without a fight, however. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made a case for the importance of the driving hour restrictions in a blog post published earlier this month, in advance of the omnibus bill’s passage.
The new rules require “drivers have the opportunity to take a very real rest and catch up on sleep before working another very long week,” Foxx argued. “The net effect of these changes was to reduce the average maximum week a driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours. While most truckers don’t come close to operating this many hours a week, the FMCSA rules were not a solution looking for a problem. To the contrary, it was brought to our attention as we were developing this rule that a segment of the industry was often operating at the maximum hours allowed.
“… This rider will have the effect of once again allowing a segment of the trucking industry to operate an average of as many as 82 hours per week. The best science tells us that’s unsafe and will put lives at risk,” Foxx said.
And there were lawmakers who loudly demanded the riders be removed from the omnibus bill, too, including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The DOT’s rules “should remain firmly in place,” the senators said in a joint statement issued last week. “In 2012 large trucks were involved in 3,700 accidents with close to 4,000 fatalities and 104,000 injuries. With so many crashes, we should be examining further limitations on hours of service, not suspending the rules currently in place. At the very least, hours of service requirements should not be suspended during further study, but rather maintained until evidence illustrates a change would not pose a threat to public safety.”
Blumenthal said Tuesday that he is considering legislation next year to restore the rules.
“I certainly will make an effort legislatively to reverse the rollback,” Blumenthal told POLITICO Pro Transportation. “All of the folks who have an interest in transportation safety are dismayed and disheartened by this rollback of common-sense safety rules, everyone from the Teamsters and the truck drivers to the safety advocates.”
Whether any legislation is successful, the baking industry’s relief might not last long, as the riders that block the funding for the DOT measures expire on Sept. 30 along with the rest of the spending bill. As a a result, Collins also had language inserted in the omnibus that requires the department to conduct a new peer-reviewed study and compare fatigue in drivers with the restrictions in place and without.