Hours debate put to rest

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“The rule strikes a balance between uniform, consistent enforcement and the need for operational flexibility,” said Annette Sandberg, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in announcing the first major change in hours-of-service regulations in almost 65 years.

Beginning Jan. 4, 2004, truck drivers subject to federal work-hour regulations must receive at least 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time, two hours more than under current rules. The new hours-of-service regulations, issued last month, represent the most significant changes to driver work-period rules since they were first adopted in 1939.

The new rule allows 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour period that starts once duty time begins. The current rule allows 10 hours of driving in a 15-hour duty period that can be stretched out by breaks. Drivers for passenger carriers will continue to operate under current rules.

The current limits of 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days remain in place, as do all 14 exceptions to and exemptions from the hours-of-service regulations. A new provision, which has long been advocated by the American Trucking Associations, allows drivers to restart that seven- or eight-day cycle at any point after 34 consecutive hours of off-duty time.

The rule is also significant for what it doesn’t contain. Many of the controversial provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s May 2000 proposal are gone. The proposed rule would have delineated between five kinds of local, regional and over-the-road applications, required “weekends” of 36 to 52 hours and mandated electronic onboard recorders.

Although the final rule is effective 60 days after publication in the April 28 Federal Register, enforcement begins Jan. 4. FMCSA had announced earlier that enforcement would be delayed to allow for an orderly transition, including the education of carriers and drivers, training of enforcement personnel, modification of computer systems and the adoption of rules and regulations needed in 20 states for state officials to enforce the new rules on interstate carriers.

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Balancing safety and economics
Flanked by enlarged photographs of a 1950s-era GMC and a modern Kenworth, U.S. transportation officials unveiled the new rules April 24, saying the new regulations will address driver fatigue while avoiding an onerous economic burden on trucking companies.

“I am proud to announce the first major change of the hours-of-service rule in almost 65 years – a change that will make our nation’s highways much safer,” said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

“The rule strikes a balance between uniform, consistent enforcement and the need for operational flexibility,” said Annette Sandberg, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Sandberg said the new rule takes into account the major changes in the highway system and truck technology since the original rule was adopted in the late 1930s.

Achieving a 24-hour clock, which FMCSA says is consistent with fatigue science, is still a goal of the agency. Future rulemakings will move drivers further toward a normal, Circadian rhythm, Sandberg said.

Despite receiving 53,000 written comments plus dozens of statements at public forums, FMCSA ultimately simplified its task by conducting an in-depth review of only three proposals – those submitted by ATA and Parents Against Tired Truckers as well as an alternative drafted by FMCSA staff. In the introduction of the final rule, the agency said the FMCSA alternative falls between the ATA and PATT proposals in terms of lives saved and the cost/benefit ratio.

“Because the agency’s statutory priority is safety, we have adopted a rule that is marginally more expensive than the ATA option but which will reduce fatigue-related accidents and fatalities more substantially than that option,” FMCSA said in the rule’s introduction. “The FMCSA believes that the rule represents the best combination of safety improvements and cost containment that can realistically be achieved.”

FMCSA officials say the new rule will save between 24 and 75 lives a year. The agency estimates the net economic benefit of the rule to be approximately $1.1 billion due to fewer accidents and fatalities and productivity gains that would allow carriers to forego hiring around 48,000 drivers.

Industry support
“This is a package that our members can work with,” said Bill Graves, ATA President and CEO. “We have worked hard all along for a rule that is a good mixture of common sense and sound science. It will allow us to meet the real world operational needs of the trucking industry and most importantly, do so safely.”

David McCorkle of McCorkle Truck Line, who headed the committee that responded to FMCSA’s controversial proposed rule, said that the rule was good enough. “It’s not everything we wanted, but it is a much better rule than we had three years ago. We can live with this one,” McCorkle said.

“This rule gives credibility to the trucking industry,” said Gerald Detter, president and CEO of Con-Way Transportation Services and co-chair of ATA’s Trucking Executives Leadership Council during the campaign against the 2000 hours plan. “We meant it when we asked for real hours-of-service reform to improve the safety of our workplace – the nation’s highways. We’re now on target.”

ATA had suggested several changes that FMCSA did not adopt in the rule. One was giving carriers the flexibility to average drivers’ weekly work limits over two weeks so that drivers could work harder one week and spend more time at home the next. The association also had recommended that there be no specified limit on driving within the 14-hour duty period.

Dissatisfaction elsewhere
Other interested parties weren’t so pleased. PATT founder Daphne Izer said allowing truckers to drive 11 hours is too much. “Ten hours is too much,” she said. “Studies show after eight hours of driving the number of accidents goes up.” She questioned the decision to drop mandatory recorders from the proposal. “Onboard recorders are a must,” Izer said. “How are they going to enforce the hours without them? The logbook is a comic book.” PATT was one of the safety advocacy groups that sued DOT to accelerate the final rule.

The Teamsters union said it opposed the new hours-of-service rule. “It’s already a lot to have 10 hours of driving time,” said spokesman Rob Black. “When you add an hour, that can only make for drivers who are more fatigued. A driver who is fatigued is not as safe.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said the rule failed to address shippers and carriers who force drivers to drive unsafe schedules or wait long hour at docks, said Jim Johnson, the group’s president. “After almost 65 years of working with regulatory controls that should have been declared obsolete decades ago, this is a pretty sorry excuse for a revision to address today’s problems,” Johnson said. The group is planning a protest in June, asking its members to drive legally.

NO recorders
FMCSA decided against adopting electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) for several reasons. Costs varied widely and benefits were not proven, and design standards don’t exist, for example, to standardize a printout from an EOBR. Agency officials decided that it was burdensome to require small carriers to adopt recorders at the same time as large carriers, but that it was also unfair for small carriers to be able to operate several years without them. Finally, EOBRs raised certain privacy and litigation concerns among drivers and carriers that FMCSA wasn’t prepared yet to resolve.

The preamble to the final rule states that FMCSA will study EOBRs and other technologies further and will evaluate alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for their use. FMCSA does not specify what incentives it might use to encourage use of EOBRs. The key research factors in the study will include:

  • Ability to identify the individual driver;
  • Tamper resistance;
  • Ability to produce records for audit;
  • Ability of roadside enforcement to quickly and easily access the HOS information;
  • Level of protection afforded other personal, operational or proprietary information;
  • Cost; and
  • Driver acceptability.

Sandberg acknowledged that the lack of a recorder detracted from enforcement effectiveness, but she defended the decision not to require them. “Clearly there’s an enforcement problem, but … the science and the data wasn’t there at this point in time to mandate those recorders.” Furthermore, moving a driver more toward a 24-hour cycle makes it easier to examine logbooks for compliance, Sandberg said.

The final rule was published in the April 28 Federal Register. The rule and educational materials for drivers are available on the FMCSA website at this site.