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Status Report, Vol. 47, No. 1 | January 24, 2012 Subscribe

Final hours-of-service rule leaves 11-hour shift intact

Truck drivers can continue to spend as many as 11 hours a day on the road under a final hours-of-service rule the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued in December. The agency had proposed shortening the daily allowable driving time but said "compelling scientific evidence" is needed to support the move.

Other tenets of the rule are in line with the agency's 2010 notice of proposed rulemaking (see "Truckers still need more rest than plan allows," April 26, 2011). Commercial carriers must comply by July 2013.

Hours-of-service regulations are intended to help alleviate fatigue by regulating drive and rest times. The new rule limits use of the so-called restart provision that permits truckers to begin a new workweek after 34 hours off duty. Restarts will be restricted to 1 every 7 days, or 168 hours, compared with the 2 restarts now allowed. Drivers who use them will have to get at least 2 nights' rest from 1 to 5 a.m.

While the rule reduces the hours truckers can work in a week, it still allows them to spend more time on the road in a day than they could before FMCSA changed hours-of-service rules in 2003 (see "New work-hour rules for truckers won't improve safety," June 16, 2003). Previously truckers had been held to 10 hours of driving a day.

FMCSA said it determined that the economic benefits of the current 11-hour maximum trump the safety gains associated with limiting truckers to 10 hours on the road.

"There is solid scientific evidence to support restoring the 10-hour daily driving limit," said Anne McCartt, the Institute's senior vice president for research. "Numerous studies show that crash risk increases long before 11 hours of driving. We hope the agency will reconsider its decision."

A federal appeals court has twice overturned prior hours-of-service rules in response to lawsuits filed by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and others. The latest rule grew out of the agency's 2009 settlement with these groups (see "Agency rejects recorder rule for all big rigs," June 19, 2010).

"By keeping the unsafe portion of the rule that permits truckers to drive for 11 consecutive hours, department officials have broken their promise to make safety their No. 1 priority," said Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The group "is confident that the court will reach the same result when this new rule comes before it for judgment."

The American Trucking Associations, which lobbied to retain current regulations, opposes the new provision requiring drivers to rest during overnight hours as part of a 34-hour restart.

"This rule will put more truck traffic onto roadways during morning rush hour, frustrate other motorists, and increase the risk of crashes," said Bill Graves, the group's president and chief executive.

FMCSA said the overnight periods are in keeping with circadian sleep patterns and will help drivers get better quality rest.

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