Despite protests from giant corporations and powerful trade groups, the government has decided to let a new rule governing truck drivers' hours of service stand. The rule, which represents the first major change to the hours of service (HOS) regs in more than 60 years, affects drivers of big rigs: vehicles with weight ratings over 10,000 pounds. It allows drivers to operate a vehicle for 11 hours within a 14-hour period after at least 10 consecutive hours off duty. (The current rule allows 10 hours of driving within a 15-hour on-duty period after eight hours off.) Unlike the existing rule, mid-day breaks can't be used to extend an on-duty period. Drivers are limited to 60 hours on duty over seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight consecutive days.
Though the rule won't take effect until Jan.4, several giant companies and influential trade groups petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to reconsider the rule this past summer. For example, Wal-Mart executives, in a meeting with FMCSA officials in August, argued that including mid-day breaks in the 14-hour daily work limit would hurt the retailer's scheduling system and force it to hire additional drivers. In its petition,Wal-Mart argued that the new rule would reduce driver productivity by about 6 percent. To make up for that loss,the company contends that it would have to add 275 new drivers and 300 new tractors. (Wal-Mart operates a private fleet of 7,100 drivers, 6,000 tractors and 35,000 trailers.)
Other protests were lodged by the Short-Haul Hours-of-Service Coalition. The group asked FMCSA to allow short-haul carriers to use either the new 14-hour rule or the current 15-hour rule, which allows extending the work day through breaks during the day. It argued that the new rule limited members' flexibility to schedule non-driving functions and contended that it would lead employers to discourage drivers from taking breaks during the 14-hour work period.
Along with Wal-Mart and the Short-Haul Hours-of-Service Coalition (whose members include such powerhouses as the Grocery Manufacturers of America,the American Supply Association, the International Mass Retail Association, the National Soft Drink Association, the Snack Food Association and the American Bakers Association),other petitioners included Pinnacle West Capital Corp. and its subsidiary Arizona Public Service Co.; Southern California Edison Co.; Edison Electric Institute; FOX News; the National Propane Gas Association; and Sabil Uplink Communications.
Ultimately, their efforts were in vain. The FMCSA, which developed the new rule, announced last month that it had denied all those petitions, which fell into four broad categories: requests to allow off-duty time to extend the 14-hour on-duty limit; requests to exempt utility vehicles and workers from the hours-of-servi ce regulations; requests for miscellaneous changes, such as changing the definition of commercial motor vehicles; and requests to allow early compliance with the new hours-of-service rules. In her announcement, FMCSA Administrator Annette M. Sandberg defended the new rule, noting that it "strikes a balance between reasonableness, consistency, and enforce ability, while improving safety and protecting all highw ay users."
The FMCSA contends the new hours-of-service rule will save up to 75 lives and prevent as many as 1,326 fatiguerelated crashes annually. The agency argues that the rule reflects scientific driver fatigue studies and a careful evaluation of the more than 53,000 public comments on the proposed rule.
This final hours-of-service rule can be viewed on the Department of Transportation's online Document Management System. Search for docket number FMCSA-97-2350 at http://dms.dot.gov. Go to page 465 of the table of contents: the final rule is document number 23305 on that page.