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A proposed rule from the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), scheduled to be published in the Dec. 29 Federal Register, would revise the regulations for hours of service for drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles--including a possible change to driving time requirements--in order to promote safety and to protect driver health.
The notice said that the proposed rule would provide flexibility for drivers to take breaks when needed and would reduce safety and health risks associated with long hours.
The proposed rule would maintain that the required off-duty period be a minimum of 10 consecutive hours for drivers. Driving time between two such off-duty periods could either be 10 hours, as it was prior to 2003, or 11 hours as is currently.
FMCSA said the 10-hour driving time is the “currently preferred option,” but is still examining the 11-hour driving period.
Under the proposed rule, the driving window would remain, on most days, at 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty following a break of at least 10 hours; but a driver would be permitted to be on duty for only 13 hours of that time as opposed to the current 14 hours. The on-duty time not spent driving includes such activities as waiting for cargo, having cargo unloaded, meals, and rest breaks.
A driver also would be required to be released from duty at the end of the 14-hour period. To provide drivers with the ability to rest, if needed, or to respond to unanticipated conditions, twice a week, drivers would be allowed to extend the driving window to 16 hours, but would be required to take three hours of breaks.
The weekly limits in the current rule (60 hours on duty in 7 days or 70 hours on duty in 8 days) would remain unchanged. The 34-hour restart allowed under the current rule, which permits drivers to restart the 60- or 70-hour “clock" by taking a break of at least 34 consecutive hours off duty, would be retained, but with certain limitations.
The proposed rule also contains dozens of smaller changes.
“The [FMSCA] has attempted to structure these requirements to protect safety and health while maintaining industry flexibility and minimizing the impact on drivers working more reasonable schedules,” the notice said. “Because the drivers who work very extensive hours are a relatively small minority, FMCSA does not anticipate that this rule would have significant adverse impact on the industry.”
However, Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, said, in a Dec. 23 statement, that the proposal is “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking's productivity.”
Graves said the proposed rule will “likely reduce the maximum daily driving time to 10 hours.”
The trucking industry's safety performance while operating under the hours of service rules in place since 2004 “has been remarkable," said Graves.
“When viewed against trucking's sterling safety record, it's plain that the Obama administration's willingness to break something that's not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health,” Graves said.
Hard-pressed to argue safety benefits of further restricting truck driver productivity, the administration is trying to justify its proposed changes as needed to improve driver health, he said.
Graves said that FMCSA estimated, in 2008, costs of over $2.2 billion if the daily drive time was reduced by one hour and the restart provision was significantly changed.
Officials from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which routinely lobbies for shorter driving times, were not available for comment, but the union's officials have argued that scientific evidence shows that increasing the length of time interstate truck drivers could drive within a single workday was unsafe for drivers and other motorists.
“There is good scientific evidence that shows performance begins to degrade after eight hours and the degradation increases geometrically between the 10th and 11th hours," said LaMont Byrd, director of the union's safety and health department, at a Jan. 19 “listening session” with the FMCSA.
The FMSCA had a previous rule on driving limits challenged in court. That rule was scheduled to take effect in January 2009 but was challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by the Teamsters and several safety advocacy groups.
In October 2009, the plaintiffs in the case, along with a Justice Department attorney representing FMCSA, requested that the court hold the case in abeyance pending a new proposed rule issued by the agency.
If the new proposed rules are put into place, violations will result in penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Carriers that allow drivers to violate the rules will face fines of up to $11,000 for each offense.
Public comments will be accepted via the FMCSA website.
By Derrick Cain
The notice of proposed rulemaking may be accessed at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=dcan-8cjryp.
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