California senator wants DOT to re-examine truck driver fatigue

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) recently called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to revisit its efforts to improve highway safety by requiring electronic onboard computers.

In a letter to John H. Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Feinstein discussed the risk of long-distance truck driver fatigue and requested information about current efforts to address this growing problem.

“I am concerned that your regulations to reduce long-distance truck driver fatigue are failing,” Feinstein wrote in a Nov. 15 letter prompted by two recent deadly accidents on California interstates. “The regulations, which require truck drivers to record their hours in written logbooks, continue to tempt drivers to falsify their books.”

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, about a third of drivers admit to often or sometimes omitting hours from their logbooks, Feinstein wrote. “Perhaps more alarming, the Institute reports the percentage of drivers who reported dozing at the wheel at least once during the past month rose from 13 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2005,” she wrote.

On May 4, a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of a minivan on Interstate 5 in Orange County, killing three children. On Oct. 12, a fiery crash that took the lives of three people and involved 33 big rigs destroyed the tunnel beneath the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways. “These devastating crashes in California highlight the cost of not moving forward with common-sense measures that could make our highways safer,” Feinstein wrote.

FMCSA in January proposed to mandate EOBRs for motor carriers that display a pattern of violating the hours-of-service regulations, and it offered a couple of limited incentives in the form of regulatory and enforcement relief to encourage voluntary adoption. FMCSA’s decision to mandate recorders only in situations where public safety dictated was based on the agency’s reviews, including a cost-benefit analysis, Hill said at a Jan. 11 news conference in Washington, D.C.

“Companies most likely to be a safety hazard on the road will be the focus,” Hill said. “EOBRs will help ensure these important rules are followed.” FMCSA estimated that if its proposed rule were in effect today, about 930 motor carriers employing about 17,500 drivers would be subject to it.

The threshold for mandatory EOBRs would be a finding based on a review of HOS records during each of two compliance reviews conducted within a two-year period that the carrier had a 10 percent or greater violation rate for any of the major HOS regulations. Such carriers would be required to install EOBRs in all their commercial motor vehicles for a period of two years.

FMCSA proposed several incentives for motor carriers to install EOBRs voluntarily, including revising the compliance review standards to permit examination of a random sample of drivers’ records of duty status and partial relief from HOS supporting documents requirements if certain conditions are met.

For links to the EOBR proposal and to all the comments filed regarding it, go to http://dms.dot.gov/search and search Docket No. 18940.