Congress budget deal could suspend trucker rest rules

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COLUMBIA - A bill introduced last night by the appropriations committees in both chambers of Congress in Washington could temporarily suspend rules put into place last year to give truckers enough rest.

The bill comes with a spending bill needed to fund the U.S. government. The legislation will provide $1 trillion to fund most of the government until September 30 in order to avoid a shut down like last year.

The provision will require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to study the impact of trucker regulations. Trucker rules and regulations would be suspended until the study is complete.

Currently, truck drivers can only work about 70 hours a week. This means they must rest 34 hours a week, including two consecutive nights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

These regulations would be suspended during the survey and truckers would then be able to drive almost 82 hours per work week.

Those who oppose the measure say it will be dangerous to allow truckers to drive long amounts of time without rest, causing them to be a possible safety hazard on the road. Many opponents cite the fatal accident in June involving a Wal-Mart truck that killed comedian James McNair and critically injured Tracey Morgan.

Truck driver Lindsey Dunn said he doesn't think allowing more hours is going to affect drivers. He said as long as truck drivers have a schedule, they won't recklessly go over their hours. 

"As long as the driver sets his system up and drives that system, pretty much he'll never get tired," he said. "You just stay consistent. That's the best way to do trucking."

Another driver, Kathy Johnson, has a different view. She said since many truckers lose money and driving hours when they stop, they're pushing themselves to finish their drives even if they are fatigued.

Johnson said she doesn't think Congress realizes how unsafe even the 70 hours per week regulations are.

"The new hours of service is not as safe as it used to be, when you could take time and not lose your driving hours," she said. "If they want safety they should be out here on the road. Take a week with a driver and tour this country and see what's actually going on out here."

The bill still has to be passed by the House and the Senate this week.