Long-awaited rules governing truck drivers' hours of service will be published before the end of this month, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Though the contents have been kept largely under wraps, Suzy Bohnert, a spokeswoman for the FMCSA, reports that the Office of Management and Budget completed its review of the proposed rules on April 9 and returned them to the agency to prepare for the next step, formal listing in the Federal Register. As things stood at press time, that agency had a deadline of May 31 to publish the rules, and Bohnert said the deadline would be met.
The rules themselves remain a well-kept secret. Bohnert said she could not discuss the contents of the new rules until their publication, but she did say that the agency would hold briefings on the rules' contents when they were published. In late March, the FMCSA held a briefing for key stakeholders, including representatives from industry, organized labor, safety groups and law enforcement, to discuss timetables, but not the rules themselves.
Within six months of the rules' publication, the agency will modify its computer systems and work with the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Alliance, an organization of law enforcement and compliance officers, to make any necess ary modifications to their practices, Bohnert says. The agency will also upgrade field training manuals to reflect the new rules, during that period. Within eight months of publication, she said, the agency will offer training in the new rules under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program for 8,000 motor carrier safety investigators,inspectors and auditors.
The rules will replace decades-old regulations - the current rules were imposed in 1938 - that safety advocates and motor carriers agree are longoutdated. But in the past, their agreement on the new rules has ended there. Changes proposed to the hours-of-service rules three years ago met with stiff opposition from safety advocates, who considered them too lax, and from motor carriers, who contended they would be both costly and ineffective. Those rules were eventually withdrawn.
All that is certain is that the new rules will mean changes in the way motor carriers operate. "It will be a behavior change for everyone," says Wayne Lubner, vice president of driver relations for truckload carrier Schneider National. "Let's hope it's an improvement."