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December 23, 2010 3:00 PM, EST
FMCSA Proposes Revised Hours of Service Rule
Tom Biery/Trans Pixs

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Thursday issued its latest hours-of-service proposal, though the agency has yet to decide if truckers should be allowed 10 or 11 hours of daily driving time.

The proposal retains the 34-hour restart provision that allows drivers to restart their weekly clocks after 34 consecutive off-duty hours. However, FMCSA said the restart will have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6:00 a.m.

In addition, FMCSA said drivers will be allowed to use the restart only once during any seven-day period. As part of an earlier court settlement, FMCSA must publish a final rule by July 26.

“A fatigued driver has no place behind the wheel of a large commercial truck,” said

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We are committed to an hours-of-service rule that will help create an environment where commercial truck drivers are rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job.”

FMCSA said it favors a 10-hour driving limit but would wait for public comment before making a final decision. The proposal will require truckers to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday and to complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for at least a one-hour break.

The agency said other key provisions include the option of extending a driver’s daily shift to 16 hours twice a week to accommodate for issues such as loading and unloading at terminals or ports, and allowing drivers to count some time spent parked in their trucks toward off-duty hours.

American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said the proposed changes will be “enormously expensive for trucking and the economy.”

The proposal is “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking’s productivity,” he said in a statement.

FMCSA has correctly found in the past that requiring two nights of sleep would disrupt drivers’ circadian cycle and add to more daytime driving in congested periods, again increasing crashes, ATA said.

“This proposal includes even more restrictions than what FMCSA previously considered” said Graves, and “as a result, we will be evaluating FMCSA’s proposed costs and benefits very carefully.”

He said the trucking industry’s safety performance under HOS rules in place since 2004 has been “remarkable,” adding that crash-related fatalities are down 33% from 2003 and that both fatality and injury crash rates are at their lowest level since the DOT began keeping records.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance said Thursday that the proposed rules are “perhaps not as bad as many thought they would be.” It commended FMCSA for retaining the restart provision and warned that the 14-hour workday may be difficult to manage.

As for the driving time limit, CTA said that the amount of time a driver rests is more important to avoid fatigue than the amount of time her or she drives.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has not yet formed an opinion about the proposal as of Thursday, it said. In a statement, it reiterated its position that HOS rules must allow drivers to sleep when tired and work when rested.

FMCSA’s release said the HOS proposal will be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 29 and that comments will be accepted for 60 days.

Click here for a look at the new hours of service rule and its proposed changes. (FMCSA website.)