Senate subcommittee hears testimony on hours-of-service rule

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A Senate subcommittee today, Dec. 19, heard testimony on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recent interim final rule on driver’s hours of service. The interim rule retains key components of the 2004 truck driver work and rest rules, which FMCSA says have contributed to improved safety on the nation’s highways.

In its July opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit voided the 11 hours of driving and the 34-hour restart on the grounds that the public didn’t have adequate notice of FMCSA’s methodology for analyzing crash risk. The IFR was developed after new data showed that safety levels have been maintained since the 11-hour driving limit was first implemented in 2003, FMCSA said.

The activist group Public Citizen asked the court today, Dec. 19, to vacate the IFR and issue a new one based on pre-2004 hours regulations. Public Citizen also favors mandatory electronic onboard recorders in all trucks, a point raised again at the hearing.

At the Senate subcommittee hearing, Dave Osiecki — American Trucking Associations vice president of safety, security and operations — testified on behalf of ATA, which supports FMCSA’s IFR. Osiecki — speaking before the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Merchant Marine Safety, and Security and Infrastructure of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation — said that in just four years, the current rules have contributed to significant decreases in the number of fatal large truck crashes, the fatal large truck crash rate, the number of injuries from truck-involved crashes, and the injury crash rate.

Osiecki said the current hours-of-service rules represented a “balanced set of rules” that promote driver alertness through natural work and rest cycles while providing the industry with operational flexibility. “ATA supports the new hours-of-service rules because they are working,” he said.

In its IFR, FMCSA cited data collected by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that showed there is no increase in crash risk in the 11th hour of driving. Osiecki said government and industry safety data and metrics clearly indicate that the current HOS rules are an improvement in truck safety over the pre-2004 rules.

Osiecki said the rule that remains in effect reflects the scientific research that shows that the comprehensive regulations in effect since 2004 — except for a change in sleeper-berth regulations in October 2005 — promote driver alertness and enhance highway safety.

However, LaMont Byrd, Teamsters director of safety and health, said the reinstated hours-of-service rule only meets the economic needs of the trucking industry, and not the health and safety needs of truck drivers. “The FMCSA is more concerned about the economic viability of the trucking industry than about the safety and health of the drivers in this rulemaking,” Byrd said.

FMCSA cherry-picked from studies supporting its position that an 11-hour driving limit did not result in more fatal crashes than the previous limit of 10 hours, Byrd said. The Teamsters reviewed the information provided by FMCSA and found that it does not support the agency’s claim, he said. FMCSA has acknowledged in the past that the risk of a crash doubles from the eighth hour to the ninth hour of driving, and doubles again from the 10th to the 11th hour, Byrd said.

As required by the court, FMCSA seeks comment on its methodology of the operator-fatigue model, which is central to the justification for the IFR, FMCSA Administrator John Hill said.

“The IFR is based on the agency’s evaluation of new safety and operational data, additional analysis and modeling of the relationship between hours of driving and fatigue-related large truck crashes, discussion of the concept of cumulative fatigue in the context of driving activity, and the collection and evaluation of new data on the benefits and costs of the 11-hour driving limit and the 34-hour restart provisions,” he said.

“The rule’s opponents have argued consistently in favor of reducing the allowable driving time from 11 hours to 10 hours and eliminating the 34-hour restart,” Hill said. “However, the information available at the time we published our 2005 rule and the subsequent IFR did not support that position. We will examine comments to our recently published IFR and will pursue any evidence that suggests that the 11-hour allowable driving time and 34-hour restart is resulting in any increase of CMV fatalities. Our responsibility to the traveling public demands that we promote safety.”

During her testimony, Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen asked family members of people killed in large-truck crashes to hold up pictures of their lost loved ones. They complied.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., chair of the surface transportation subcommittee, called the hearing an occasion to be reminded of “what happens when we get careless or casual about enforcement when we have laws on the books.” Besides Lautenberg, the only subcommittee member present was U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and he left before the hearing was over.