December 28, 2010

Truckers slam FMCSA driver hours proposal

ATA calls new safety rules an effort to "break something that isn't broken."

By Mark B. Solomon

The trucking industry hit back Friday on the federal government's proposed change to truck operators' drive times, calling its new proposal an effort to "break something that is not broken."

On Dec. 23, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a regulatory proposal that would revise hours-of-service (HOS) requirements for commercial truck drivers—requirements that have gone through multiple iterations and sparked numerous legal challenges since 2004. FMCSA's latest proposal would require all commercial drivers to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday and to finish all on-duty work activities within a 13-hour window. The agency said the new proposal would keep a "34-hour restart" provision allowing drivers to resume their 60- to 70-hour shifts after taking off 34 consecutive hours.

The driver restart period, however, would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6 a.m., and drivers could only use the restart once in each seven-day period.

As for the HOS rule's most closely watched provision, the FMCSA invited comment on a proposal to reduce from 11 hours to 10 hours the amount of daily drive time. FMCSA said it favors limiting the daily driving time to 10 hours.

"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."

The proposal was sharply criticized by the American Trucking Associations (ATA). In a statement, ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said the proposal was "overly complex, [was] chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers, and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking's productivity."

Graves said the proposed rules ignore the fact that crash-related fatalities are down by one-third from their 2003 levels, and that fatality and injury crash rates are at their lowest level since the Department of Transportation began keeping records.

"When viewed against trucking's sterling safety record," said Graves, "it's plain that the Obama administration's willingness to break something that's not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health."

The ATA also warned that the proposed changes would be "enormously expensive" for the trucking industry and the economy. Graves cited FMCSA's 2008 estimates that reducing drive time by one hour and changing the driver start provision would cost the industry an additional $2.2 billion per year. He also said the agency has gone on record stating that eliminating the extra 11th hour of driving time would not be cost-effective and would have no material effect on safety.

Shippers and consignees have voiced concern that a significant change in drive times would force a dramatic revamp to their supply chains to accommodate the shortened hours.

The trucking group took issue with the government's statement that its new proposal wouldn't lead to the abolition of the 34-hour restart provision. Because the proposed rule requires a driver to include two overnight periods—between midnight and 6 a.m.—it will be impossible for most drivers to achieve a restart in 34 hours, it said.

ATA used as an example a driver who finished his shift at 8 a.m. and began his restart, which would normally end at 6 p.m. the following day. However, because the driver would need to wait for two consecutive "overnight periods," he would not be able to start again until 6 a.m. the following day, 46 hours from the end of his original shift.

FMCSA will give interested parties 60 days to comment on its proposal. Under terms of a court-approved settlement agreement, the agency must publish a final rule no later than July 26, 2011.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Executive Editor - News
Mark Solomon joined DC VELOCITY as senior editor in August 2008, and was promoted to his current position on January 1, 2015. He has spent more than 30 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. He graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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