New data prompts ATA to again call on FMCSA to retain HOS rules

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The American Trucking Associations on Wednesday, April 13, again called on the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to abandon their proposed changes to the hours-of-service rules following the release of new data showing significant declines in truck-related crashes.

“Since FMCSA began its effort to revise these rules, we have said the current rules are working,” says Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “The Obama Administration’s own data now supports that belief.” Since the agency first changed the hours rules in 2004, the truck-involved fatality rate has dropped by 36 percent – nearly twice as fast as the overall fatality rate on U.S. highways.

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.

FMCSA’s Compliance Safety Accountability program data shows a strong correlation between compliance with the existing hours-of-service rules and trucking company safety performance, Graves says. “FMCSA should move forward with its proposed requirement for electronic logs and focus on ensuring all carriers follow the rules,” he says.

In 2009, according to DOT data, the truck-involved fatality rate fell to 1.17 per 100 million miles traveled. Graves says the decline shows that trucking has achieved parity with the overall highway fatality rate, due in part to these rules. “That’s not a coincidence – the current rules are working,” says Graves, pointing out that the 2004 hours-of-service rule change was the only significant truck safety regulatory improvement made by FMCSA between 2004 and 2009.

“Trucking’s critics point to the slumping economy as the main reason for the industry’s safety gains, but DOT’s own figures showed that trucks are driving more miles than when these rules were established, and trucking is involved in far fewer crashes,” says Dave Osiecki, senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs. “Advocates for change noisily asserted these rules would lead to increases in crashes and fatalities, but those dire baseless predictions have not come true. We are left to conclude that these rules are doing their job in helping to improve highway safety.”

The NPRM released Dec. 23 followed a 2009 settlement of a lawsuit that had been filed by several safety advocacy groups over the current version of the rules. Under that settlement, FMCSA is obligated to issue a final rule by July 26. FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro says the agency received 25,000 comments on its proposed hours-of-service changes, which are being analyzed for shaping the final rule.