FMCSA Finalizes Hours of Service Rule

The battle lines are drawn again in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's push to change commercial truckers' driving hours. The final rule published today reiterates the 11 hours of driving within a 14-hour, non-extendable window from the start of the work day, following at least 10 consecutive hours off duty (the 11-hour rule) and restart of the weekly on-duty limits after the driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off duty (34-hour restart) that has upset Public Citizen, which sued and defeated essentially the same regulation last year before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, issued a statement saying the final rule "ignores mountains of safety research, authorizes the exact same 11-hours of driving and 34-hour restart provisions of rules past –- rules that the court deemed were inadequate. Under the rule, drivers may continue to log a physically and mentally demanding 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. In addition, drivers can be required to work 14 hours a day, which includes loading and unloading cargo. The rule also fails to require electronic on-board recorders that are essential to assure effective enforcement of the rule.

"This rule will continue to force truck drivers to continue enduring sweatshop-like working conditions," Claybrook continued. "This puts the health and safety of drivers at risk, along with the public who must share the road with tired truckers. From 2003 to 2006, the number of annual deaths among occupants of large trucks increased from 726 to 805, according to the Department of Transportation. Additionally, nearly 4,584 people were killed in 2007 in crashes involving large trucks, while another 76,000 were injured. Research clearly shows the risk of a crash dramatically increases after eight hours of driving."

The rule will take effect Jan. 19, 2009. FMCSA maintains the new HOS rule extends drivers' sleep window and will reduce fatigue. "Opponents of the 34-hour restart argue that, if used to the maximum over an extended period, it allows more driving and on-duty time on a weekly basis than the pre-2003 rule," the agency said in today's final rule. "In theory this is true, but FMCSA at that time concluded that the restart provision, like the 11th hour of driving time, would not be utilized to the theoretical maximum calculated by some commenters. Commenters have not provided nor has the Agency seen any contrary evidence."

"The Obama administration and the next Congress should add the hours-of-service rule to its list of wrong-headed Bush administration policies that should be rescinded," wrote Claybrook, who was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1977-1981. "The courts, the truckers' unions and consumer and safety advocates have pushed for a sensible rule to no avail. For real change, it's time to put the safety of truckers and the motoring public first."

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