Controversial rule changes for big rigs pass House

The Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill with controversial riders that are opposed by highway safety advocates passed the full House late Tuesday night.

The measure would extend changes to the 34-hour restart rule, doing away with a provision that advocates say aims to ensure truckers get more rest. Many truckers, though, say that isn't true and the real culprit is the time many shippers make truckers wait at the loading docks.

"There are so many customers that hold us on the dock for hours upon hours. When we pick up or drop off a load, many times we are there at least two to three hours, which cuts into our 14 hours on duty," wrote Brian Preston in an email response to my Sunday column that criticized the changes. "Then you have these big distribution center's like Wal-Mart, where its guaranteed a four- to five-hour wait. We need legislation to hold these customers accountable and pay us for our time on the dock, then we wouldn't have to hurry up and rush to get to the next stop."

Truckers are allowed to drive 11 hours a day and be on the job a total of 14 hours.

Preston said when it takes hours to unload a truck, that time can push a driver over the 14-hour limit. Even if he sleeps while the truck being unloaded, if he's over that limit, he has to wait 10 hours to drive again, he said.

After working a total of 70 hours, truckers must take a 34-hour break. Under the rule in question, that had included no driving between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. for two consecutive days. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, added a rider to last year's appropriation which ended that. This year's riders would extend that time and require states to allow trucks with 33-foot long trailers on their roads. The Mississippi Department of Transportation opposes that increase from the 28-foot-long limit.

Other truckers said the 34-hour restart restriction hurts them because they prefer to drive at night and that pushes them to drive during the day after the restart ends.

President Barack Obama has said if the bill reaches his desk in the form it was in when it left the House, he will veto it. He has a lot of problems with the bill the White House has said, including changes to the trucking rules.

The bill isn't likely to make it out of the Senate without changes.

In the Senate, it will go to the Appropriations Committee chaired by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. Cochran has promised an open and thorough debate on all issues before his committee.

Mississippi's Republican representatives, Steve Palazzo, Gregg Harper and Trent Kelly, voted for the appropriations bill. Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson voted against it.