Public Citizen, Teamsters want hours rule reconsidered

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A coalition of groups including Public Citizen and the Teamsters union filed a petition Friday, Sept. 23 asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reconsider the hours-of-service rule that takes effect Saturday, Oct. 1.

“This new rule is almost identical to the current rule, and the two additional changes they made — the sleeper-berth modification and the new short-haul provision — put our drivers at greater risk,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa.

The formal Petition for Reconsideration does not constitute a legal challenge to the rule, as many observers expected from Public Citizen and its allies, though such an action could yet come.

Industry leaders say plenty of truckers, too, have voiced questions over the revised split sleeper-berth regulation in particular.

Under the old rule, drivers using a sleeper berth had to take 10 hours off duty, but could split sleeper-berth time into two periods if neither period was less than two hours. The new sleeper-berth provision requires at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper and an additional two consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.

“We’ve had an unbelievable amount of calls and e-mails,” said Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Of course, a lot of it was complaints. A surprising number of drivers, including old-timers, don’t understand the current sleeper berth.”

The eight-and-two split is a dilemma for many callers, said Nancy O’Liddy, public affairs director for the Truckload Carriers Association. “They can’t figure it out because the eight doesn’t count against the clock, but the two does. Mostly the problems are with, ‘When do you restart the clock?'”

The high volume of questions still is less than when the old rule became effective, said Steve Keppler, policy and program director for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “With the previous rule, the questions were all over the map,” Keppler said.

The new rule is “science-based and laid out well,” said Don Osterberg, a Schneider National vice president who serves on the hours subcommittee of the American Trucking Associations. “At 378 pages, it’s long, but it’s less confusing.”

Under the old rule, Osterberg said, a split was used by only 5 to 6 percent of Schneider teams and an even smaller percentage of Schneider solo drivers. The old rule’s split confused too many truckers and resulted in hours violations, Osterberg said.

Under the new rule, Schneider does not advocate split sleeper-berth time for its drivers because it sees no advantage to splitting time, Osterberg said.

The Teamsters oppose the new split sleeper rule. “The only thing this will do is force team drivers to drive for eight hours straight, causing drivers to be more fatigued,” Hoffa said.

The Teamsters also argue that the new short-haul provision is too similar to a proposal backed by Wal-Mart that briefly was considered in Congress earlier this year. “It’s clear that the corporate trucking interests have gotten from the FMCSA what they’ve been unable to get in Congress,” Hoffa said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new rule, published Aug. 25 and effective Saturday, Oct. 1, includes a phase-in period through Dec. 31. “During this transitional period, FMCSA will monitor carriers for egregious violations of the new hours-of-service rule and pursue enforcement action when necessary,” the FMCSA stated.

“For mistakes made out of ignorance in many cases, there will be no penalty” during the phase-in period, Keppler said.