ATA wants fleet members to share their 2009 safety experience so FMCSA can see how the current hours rule is working.

New Motor Carriers' Hours Rule No Easy Task

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is asking its Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to advise on a draft rulemaking to be ready by next July.

The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee began its work on Monday to advise the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as it tries to write a draft hours of service rule that will withstand legal challenges. The Dec. 7-9 meeting in Washington, D.C., was intended to help the panel's members become acquainted with FMCSA's efforts to date on regulating commercial vehicle drivers' hours behind the wheel, fatigue and sleep research, and the economics of the trucking industry.

Tom Yager, chief of FMCSA's Driver and Carrier Operations Division, told the committee that 15 teams had been tasked since 1996 to study all facets of the hours rule. Getting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the White House Office of Management and Budget by the end of July 2010, as FMCSA's legal settlement with Public Citizen requires, "is going to be very, very challenging," Yager said.

"We're looking for a happy medium between putting the economy out of business and still hav[ing] a rule that's prescriptive enough" to ensure safety, Yager added. He noted that night driving is not treated differently from daytime driving in the agency's current rule, which allows 14 consecutive hours of driving before a driver must stop for rest. Public Citizen sued several times to block that rule from being enforced and won each time in federal court; the Oct. 26, 2009, settlement agreement contains the timetable for publishing a new hours rule within 21 months of the agreement.

Dr. Gregory Belenky, research professor and director of the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center in Spokane, told the committee that there is a huge difference in terms of performance and health between working at night and working during the day. Belenky also said he considers drowsy driving to be a more significant problem than drunk driving in the United States. 

The contact for more information about the meeting is Jack Kostelnik, acting chief of the Strategic Planning and Program Evaluation Division, Office of Policy Plans and Regulation, at FMCSA, 202-366-5730.

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