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Controversial Government Trucking Rule Raises Ire

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Jimco Truck Stop CafeThe new hours of service regulatory overhaul for truck drivers that was announced on Thursday has been met with ire by safety advocates and by trucking and business groups, but for different reasons.

The final rule, slated to go into effect on July 1, 2013, would reduce the number of hours truckers can work per week from 82 hours to 70, but leave intact the Bush-era limit of 11 hours behind the wheel per day. Groups that lobby for auto safety had asked that the daily driving limit be 10 hours.

The Trucker News Services (TNS) reports that in a statement, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) said:

The new HOS rule adopts one of the most dangerous parts of the Bush-era rule, the 11 hour consecutive driving shift that allows drivers to stay on the road an extra hour compared to the traditional 10-hour limit which was the accepted limit for nearly 70 years. […]

‘Yesterday’s release of the Federal Aviation Administration Hours of Service rule for pilots stands in stark contrast with the rule issued by FMCSA today,’ Thursday’s statement said. ‘Whereas the FAA rule carefully limits flying hours for pilots to nine hours or less, the FMCSA rule allows drivers of large trucks to continue to operate for 11 straight hours, exposing drivers to high levels of fatigue at the highest rate of crash risk.’

As TNS reports, in 2010 alone, 3,675 people were killed in truck accidents, 33 times the number of people killed in commercial airline incidents. Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel of AHAS, said the DOT estimates that 500 people are killed each year in truck driver fatigue-related crashes alone. He called the new rule’s failure to reduce the number of consecutive hours truckers are allowed to drive “unconscionable” and said the DOT’s officials have broken their promise to make safety their number-one priority.

“Most truck drivers admit they drive while tired and nearly half said they fell asleep behind the wheel at least once in the previous year under the existing rule,” Jasny said.

AHAS said that driving for 11 consecutive hours results in the highest levels of auto accident risk for truck drivers. The group also opposes the new rule’s failure to eliminate the 34-hour restart provision that allows drivers to work more hours instead of resting. However, they said the fact that the law restricts the use of restart to only once a week and requires overnight sleep by drivers is a move in the right direction.

Wikipedia defines the 34-hour restart provision as follows:

The most notable change of 2003 was the introduction of the ’34-hour restart.’ Before the change, drivers could only gain more weekly driving hours with the passing of each day (which reduced their 70-hour total by the number of hours driven on the earliest day of the weekly cycle). After the change, drivers were allowed to ‘reset’ their weekly 70-hour limit to zero, by taking 34 consecutive hours off-duty. This provision was introduced to combat the cumulative fatigue effects that accrue on a weekly basis, and to allow for two full nights of rest (e.g., during a weekend break).[2]

On the other hand, as Sean Kilcarr, senior editor of FleetOwner, reports, many trucking and business groups oppose the regulatory overhaul for other reasons:

‘Scrooge himself would gladly take second chair to the lack of Christmas spirit displayed today by federal regulators that issued unnecessarily restrictive rules on our nation’s truckers,’ said Michael Campbell, executive vp and CEO for the California Trucking Assn. ‘The only gift these rules present is the one laid at the doorstep [of] anti-trucking groups.’

‘Collectively, the changes in this [HOS] rule will have a dramatic effect on the lives and livelihoods of small-business truckers,’ said Todd Spencer, executive vp for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.

Kilcarr writes that Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Association, calls the rule’s requirement that truckers take two rest periods between 1 and 5 a.m. (as part of the 34-hour restart provision) a serious problem. He said that wold cause additional and unnecessary congestion and put all drivers on the road at greater risk.

“The largest percentage of truck-involved crashes occurs between 6 a.m. and noon, so this change not only effectively destroys the provision of the current rule most cited by professional drivers as beneficial, but it will put more trucks on the road during the statistically riskiest time of the day,” he said.

David French, senior VP for government relations for the National Retail Federation (a trade association representing retailers and chain restaurants), is opposed to the two-break requirement. “These new regulations will still drive up costs for businesses and consumers while making our highways and city streets more dangerous rather than safer,” he said.

Image by sanbeiji (Joe Lewis), used under its Creative Commons license.


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