NPTC opposes FMCSA’s latest hours proposal

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Updated Mar 7, 2011

In comments filed Friday, March 4, with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Private Truck Council strongly opposed the agency’s proposal to modify the existing hours-of-service rules and urged it to keep the current rules in effect with the exception of the sleeper berth provision.

“FMCSA has assumed that the proposed changes will improve motor carrier safety despite contrary evidence, the existing safety record and the agency’s prior policy statements,” NPTC says. “The current hours-of-service regulations have not harmed motor carrier safety as many opponents predicted. In fact, these regulations have contributed to a remarkable and unprecedented improvement in crash and fatality rates involving heavy trucks.”

The current hours-of-service rules, which have been in effect since January 2004, made four primary changes to the regulations then in place: increasing the daily driving limit from 10 hours to 11 hours; increasing the required minimum daily rest from 8 hours to 10 hours; decreasing the number of hours on duty after which a driver may not operate a commercial motor vehicle from 15 hours to 14 hours; and allowing a driver to “reset” the weekly 60 or 70-hour on duty limits with 34 consecutive hours off duty.

Under the current proposal, FMCSA is, among other changes, considering whether to reduce the daily driving limit from 11 hours to 10 hours and has proposed to limit the 34-hour restart provision by requiring that it include two periods from midnight to 6 a.m. and limiting its use to once per week.

NPTC members have reported that drivers receive more and better quality rest with a requirement for 10 consecutive hours off duty instead of eight and generally support that change. The 10-hour rule allows the drivers to return to home after a shift and take care of personal and family matters and still receive up to eight hours rest before reporting to work for the next trip.

“It is puzzling that without admitting that the 2004 changes to the hours-of-service rule have resulted in the lower crash and fatality rates for heavy trucks, the agency is now prepared to say that its new proposed changes to the rule ‘would result in a significant improvement in safety,’ ” NPTC says. “Since the underlying science behind this rule has not changed since 2009, and the crash data since 2009 continues the trend of improvement, it is unclear how a different conclusion could be reached in 2011. It appears the agency is now assuming a causal relationship between hours of service and safety performance in order to rationalize its about-face on regulatory policy.”

In fact, the proposal likely will make trucking operations less safe, NPTC maintained. “The change to the 34-hour restart provision will put more trucks on the road in daylight hours and during the morning rush hour. Many NPTC member companies start their delivery runs early in the morning (many between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.) in order to meet customer demand for the coming day. This schedule also allows them to avoid creating congestion by operating on the highways in the less-travelled hours.”

NPTC says the proposed rules also miss an opportunity in the one area where additional flexibility would improve the quality of driver rest and therefore improve safety – the sleeper berth provision, according to the trade group. Under the proposal, instead of the standard 10-hours off duty, drivers still would have to take at least eight, but less than 10, consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and a shorter break of at least two hours off duty or in the sleeper berth. NPTC says this does not address industry’s concerns that few drivers, if any, are able to withstand eight consecutive hours in a sleeper berth and obtain meaningful rest.

NPTC says that under the previous rules, drivers would run their trips using the sleeper berth provision, typically logging a five-and-five split sleeper berth and driving combination. With the 2005 change in the sleeper berth provision, team drivers no longer have the flexibility of splitting the required sleeper berth time to get the necessary sleep and rest between stops and returning to their home. Without this needed flexibility for a team operation, each driver is required to either drive or work beyond their normal capacity of fitness. According to NPTC, It is unreasonable to expect drivers in this type of operation to lie in the sleeper berth and obtain quality rest for 8-10 hours straight while the truck is moving.

On the cost side, the estimated cost for FMCSA’s preferred 10-hour daily driving limit, still is well above $1 billion, but this ignores the cost of implementing the rule changes on shippers, NPTC noted. Shippers will need to schedule additional deliveries because of the reduced driver schedules, and these additional deliveries will require additional labor for loading, unloading and cross-docking of shipments. Factoring in these costs will alter the cost-benefit balancing substantially, NPTC says.

NPTC urged FMCSA to allow enforcement changes in the Compliance Safety Accountability program to go into effect before implementing another wholesale and unproven revision to the hours-of-service rules. Additionally, NPTC proposed that FMCSA complete an 18-month pilot program with selected carriers (just like the agency conducted with the CSA program) in a handful of states to study the actual effects of these proposed changes in the hours-of-service rules rather than implementing them on the assumption they will improve carrier safety results. If the safety record of the carriers involved results in statistically significant improvement, then FMCSA could adopt as a final rule the changes proposed in this proceeding, NPTC says.