The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new hours-of-service final rule is the culmination of years of combative and often emotional debate among government, trucking industry and safety groups. Going back to the 2003 HOS final rule – the first major revision since 1938 –no topic in the trucking industry has been as hotly debated.
Armed with a mandate to combat driver fatigue to improve motor carrier safety and backed by a collection of often-criticized data and research, FMCSA issued its long-awaited HOS notice of proposed rulemaking in December 2010. After a year of contentious debates and scathing public comments, FMCSA released its HOS final rule on Dec. 22.
Though the agency scaled back some of the NPRM’s provisions, the final rule still contains substantive changes to current hours requirements. Industry groups now argue that the provisions in the new rule threaten productivity and question the impact it will have on reducing truck-related crashes. Safety advocacy groups decry the new rule as not doing enough to lower crash risks.
11th hour retained
In a “win” for the trucking industry, the HOS final rule retains the 11-hour daily driving limit, providing flexibility for drivers who encounter unexpected delays. FMCSA, which had favored a 10-hour daily driving limit throughout the rulemaking process, stated an “absence of compelling scientific evidence demonstrating the safety benefits” for lowering the limit. But the agency hasn’t closed the door entirely on reducing the driving limit in the future; it will continue to conduct further data analysis and research to examine risks associated with the 11-hour limit.
“While the vast majority of truckers and companies don’t use the 11th hour to its max every day, it’s nice to have as a buffer,” says Dave Osiecki, senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for the American Trucking Associations. “In some cases, it has increased productivity, particularly in dedicated operations.”
Safety advocacy groups, meanwhile, had been optimistic that FMCSA would lower the daily driving limit to 10 hours and immediately blasted the new rule.
“Since the Department estimates that 500 people are killed each year in truck driver fatigue-related crashes, leaving this provision in the rule is unconscionable,” says Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
“I am beyond disappointed that, once again, industry profits were put before the safety of the motoring public and truck drivers,” says a spokesperson for the Truck Safety Coalition.
The change to HOS rules that has drawn the most criticism from carriers is a new restart provision that adds two consecutive 1-to-5 a.m. periods to the existing 34-hour restart to force nighttime drivers that bump up against the 60- or 70-hour workweek to get two nights of “restorative” sleep. Also, the final rule limits use of the restart to once per week, effectively cutting the maximum workweek from 82 hours to 70 hours on average.
“A key issue I see that makes this regulation a step backwards on safety is that more drivers will be driving during the day on already-crowded highways,” says Ray Kuntz, chief executive officer for Watkins & Shepard Trucking, a less-than-truckload and truckload carrier based in Helena and Missoula, Mont. The fear, says Kuntz and other carriers, is that truck-involved crashes actually may increase as a result of the new restart provision.
Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, says the issue is compounded when considering crash risk in relation to drive time. “You have increased mixed traffic, and the research shows most crashes occur in the first two hours of coming on duty – it’s a legitimate concern,” he says. “FMCSA doesn’t think many drivers will need to use the restart, but I’ve heard differently. A number of folks have expressed that concern.”
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