FMCSA issues new HOS rules; CRASH prepares new campaign

After operating for almost a year under interim hours of service rules that remained identical to the original standards that became effective in January 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a new permanent version of the rules in response to a court order. The new rules maintain the standards requiring a mandatory rest period of 10 hours following 14 hours on-duty time in which a commercial truck driver can operate a vehicle for a maximum of 11 hours.

Cumulative driving limits remain the same as well with drivers limited to 60 hours of driving in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. As previously required, the new rule requires drivers to take a 34-hour break before restarting their driving clock after reaching the 60- or 70-hour limit.

However, the newly issued regulation contains one big change from the rules initially imposed in 2004. Instead of allowing drivers to count two periods in the tractor sleeper berth as a single continuous break, drivers who log sleeper berth time must remain in the sleeper for eight consecutive hours plus an additional two hours off-duty time for a total of 10 hours. The additional two hours may be counted as sleeper berth time, off-duty time, or a combination of the two. Under previous rules, drivers could legally split sleeper berth time into two segments totaling eight hours.

If drivers choose to take their two-hour break at a time other than immediately before or after sleeper time, those two hours will count as part of the total driving and on-duty time. Not only must the two hours be a part of the total sleeper break, they must be consecutive. To stress the point, drivers may not take one hour prior to the eight hours of sleeper time and one hour following sleeper time.

Rule addresses court's concern

FMCSA says the new sleeper berth rule addresses concerns about driver fatigue as a result of split sleeper berth breaks raised by last year's court decision. “This allows drivers to obtain one primary period of sleep and have a second two-hour off-duty or sleeper berth period to use at their discretion for breaks, naps, meals, or other personal matters,” the agency says. The new rule should help reduce those 5.5% of heavy truck crashes that are attributed to driver fatigue, FMCSA says.

Another change to the existing rules involves short-haul drivers who are not required to maintain a commercial driver license. Drivers who work within a 150-mile radius of their starting point will no longer be required to maintain log books. In addition, these drivers have the option of extending their working hours from 14 hours to 16 hours a day twice a week.

Although generally approving of the reissued rules, the American Trucking Associations voiced some uneasiness about the new sleeper berth provisions. “We need to closely examine the impact of the new sleeper berth rule on trucking companies and their drivers, particularly team drivers who are so critical to our just-in-time economy,” Bill Graves, ATA president said. “In the meantime, we feel confident that the trucking industry will continue its positive progress in safety and productivity under these rules.”

Interest groups attack rule

Interest groups critical of trucking and some labor groups immediately attacked the new rules. Public Citizen, one of the groups that took FMCSA to court in 2004, issued a release that said the rule “is virtually unchanged from a 2003 rule that the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down last year. The Bush administration's own data show that fatalities stemming from large truck crashes are up 3.1% from 2003 to 2004…While we support the portion of the rule that no longer allows drivers to split the time they spend in sleeper berths, the overall increased driving and working time is not supported by the vast body of scientific literature that exists about fatigue and driver safety.”

While critical of the rule and calling for FMCSA to reconsider and redraft the rule, Public Citizen has announced no plans for an immediate court challenge to the new rules.

Public Citizen may not be planning a challenge, but apparently another interest group, CRASH, has set its sights on commercial trucking and its safety record. In a request for information on truck safety, CRASH says: “Thank you for your help and support in advancing truck safety these past few weeks. Although we were successful in keeping anti-truck safety provisions out of the recently passed transportation bill, the fight is not over yet. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the trucking industry are looking for other bills moving through Congress to attach amendments to accomplish their goal of codifying the flawed hours of service rule unanimously overturned by the US Court of Appeals.”

The CRASH statement goes on to ask the public to share a story “about a loved one or friend who died or was injured in a fatigue-related truck crash.” These stories will be compiled in a book to share with House and Senate members and the media to show the impact and loss as a result of driver fatigue, the group says.

ATA has been quick to note that CRASH has not asked for verification of fault in reported accidents, saying: “They are probably not interested.”

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