FMCSA Keeps HOS Rule Intact

Agency Defends 11th Driving Hour, 34-Hour Restart
By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the Dec. 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in a long-awaited response to a ruling striking down key portions of its driver hours-of-service regulation, said it would continue allowing drivers 11 hours behind the wheel daily and letting them reset the weekly limit after a 34-hour break.
FMCSA Administrator John Hill said the agency was prepared to defend the rules if advocacy groups, which have twice succeeded in getting federal courts to toss out the driving-hours limits, go to court a third time.
“We intend to give drivers a work-rest schedule that follows the optimum 24-hour circadian rhythm schedule: 10 hours off duty, 14 hours on duty,” Hill said in a Dec. 11 press conference.
He cited new safety data and a revised analysis to back the agency’s revision of the 60-year-old hours-of-service regulation. In overturning that revision, a federal court said FMCSA had not justified adding an hour to the rule’s limit of 10 hours.
“We now have comprehensive safety data that is new and shows what’s been going on since the rules went into place,” Hill said. “In 2006, the commercial motor vehicle fatality rate is the lowest on record” (see related story).
Hill said FMCSA would keep 11 hours of driving in a 14-hour workday and the 34-hour restart in a new rule as “part of a broader hours-of-service package that we have been working with since 2003.”
Other than providing more data, FMCSA made no changes to the hotly contested 2005 rule, leaving the sleeper-berth provision unchanged (see story, p. 35).
Hill said FMCSA would take comments on its “interim final rule” — which goes into effect Dec. 27 and is operationally identical to the one struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals in July — and publish a final rule in 2008 (7-30, p. 1).
Hill said the “percentage of large-truck fatal crashes in which the driver was coded as fatigued has remained essentially the same since 2003,” and he added that “there was only one large truck involved in a fatigue-related fatal crash in the 11th hour, and that occurred in 2005.”
Trucking industry groups praised FMCSA, while labor and advocacy groups blasted the agency.
Bill Graves, president of American Trucking Associations, said FMCSA had “made an important contribution to highway safety by keeping in force hours-of-service rules that have led to a reduction in deaths and injuries over the last several years.”
Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the group was “pleased with having the uncertainty removed.”
Joan Claybrook, president of advocacy group Public Citizen, said the rule “astonishingly” retained the 11th hour and 34-hour restart provisions, even after courts had twice previously overturned the rule. She said “the risk of a crash dramatically increases after 10 hours of driving.”
The rule allowed truckers to drive “an exhausting 77 hours behind the wheel in a seven-day period, take a mere 34 hours off, then hit the road to do it all over,” Claybrook said.
Hill said FMCSA’s new data undercut the advocacy groups’ safety arguments.
“There have been a lot of allegations and innuendos about what this rule would do and how unsafe it was, and I think that the data show that that has not occurred,” he said. “We have data now that support the fact that the 11th hour of driving, with a 10-hour rest period off-duty, really does combine for a safe operating environment.”
He said that FMCSA’s research showed most carriers did not use the 34-hour restart to maximize driving time.
“Sixty-five percent of all the trucking firms that we identified are using the restart at 44 hours or greater. They’re using this for operational realities.”
FMCSA said “it is virtually impossible for a driver to drive 77 [or] 88 hours over seven or eight days.”
“To follow the scenario identified by these opponents, the driver would be severely limited in his or her ability to obtain fuel and food, to attend to personal hygiene needs, to park large trucks, to communicate with dispatchers, to pick up loads, to unload and to do paperwork,” the agency said.
The Teamsters union said it did not “believe there is evidence that the new rule is safer and plenty of evidence to show that it is not.”
Union President James Hoffa said, “There has been no peer-reviewed study published that shows this rule is safer than the previous rule.”
Claybrook told Bloomberg News her group would sue the agency for a third time if the longer driving limits are included in a future rule.
“There’s some form of litigation on every rule that we promulgate, so we’ll be preparing consistent with any kind of preparation that we publish,” Hill said. “We’re prepared to go to court to defend this rule, if need be.”