January 9, 2012 8:00 AM, EST
Editorial: A Misguided HOS Revision
This Editorial appears in the Jan. 9 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s new hours-of-service rule is a serious and major disappointment for the trucking industry.

Yes, it could have been worse. After all, many of us were concerned that DOT — through its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — would reduce the maximum allowable driving time to 10 hours from the current limit of 11.

But the rule could easily have been a lot better. In fact, it could have been left unchanged: We continue to question why DOT would alter the current rule at all.

As we have said repeatedly, the existing HOS rule has been a major success. Since these rules went into effect in 2004, highway fatalities in truck-involved accidents “have fallen 29.9%, even as overall miles traveled for trucks have risen” substantially, ATA Chairman Dan England said recently.

ATA President Bill Graves said, “From the beginning of this [rewriting] process in October 2009, the agency set itself on a course to fix a rule that’s not only not broken but by all objective accounts is working to improve highway safety. Unfortunately, along the way, FMCSA twisted data and, as part of this final rule, is using unjustified causal estimates to justify unnecessary changes.”

The new proposal will do the most harm by altering the 34-hour restart provision, the portion of the rule that permits drivers to begin a new workweek. While FMCSA said its action would effectively reduce the maximum allowable workweek to 70 hours for drivers to reduce potential fatigue, the effect of the change is that more drivers will be on the road during peak hours, contributing to highway congestion and — we fear — possibly increasing the number of accidents.

To be sure, neither trucking nor the interest groups that have been opposing the new rules throughout this decades-long process are happy with the final result. And both sides told our reporters last week that they were considering whether or not to restart the court challenge process, now that the new rule has been published.

While this may give some satisfaction to Washington wags who feel that, if both sides of an issue are upset with an agency’s ruling, the agency must have done a reasonable job crafting a compromise, we’re not there.

FMCSA, in an effort to improve highway safety, has embarked on a misguided effort to craft a political compromise that we fear will have serious, unintended safety consequences.