FMCSA Hits Restart

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asks the essential question in its Jan. 5 Federal Register notice announcing three "public listening sessions" to get comments and information as it tries to fashion an acceptable hours of service regulation for commercial drivers. "How many hours per day and per week would be safe and healthy for a truck driver to work?"

We don't know the answer, but we know there is no simple answer. The question is the crux of the debate over HOS that has seen Public Citizen and its allies overturn the agency's current HOS rule three times in federal court, ultimately reaching a settlement in which FMCSA agreed to issue a new proposed rule. Hence the listening sessions and the questions being asked. Among them:

1. Would mandatory short rest periods during the work day improve driver alertness in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle? How long should these rest periods be? At what point in the duty cycle or drive-time would short rest periods provide the greatest benefit? What are the unintended consequences if these short rest periods are mandatory? Should the on-duty period be extended to allow for mandatory rest periods?

2. If rest or other breaks from driving improve alertness, could a driver who chooses to take specified minimum breaks be given scheduling flexibility--the ability to borrow an hour from another driving day once a week, for example--if that flexibility would not increase safety risks or adversely impact driver health?

3. How many hours per day and per week would be safe and healthy for a truck driver to work?

4. Would an hours-of-service rule that allows drivers to drive an hour less when driving overnight improve driver alertness and improve safety? Are there any adverse consequences that could arise from the implementation of a separate night time hours of service regulation?

5. Is a 34-consecutive-hour off-duty period long enough to provide restorative sleep regardless of the number of hours worked prior to the restart? Is the answer different for a driver working a night or irregular schedule?

6. Could the 14-hour on-duty limitation be extended by the amount of some additional sleeper-berth time without detrimental effect on highway safety? What would be the appropriate length of such a limited sleeper-berth rest period?

7. What effect has the fixed 14-hour driving "window" had on the time drivers spend waiting to load or unload? Have shippers and receivers changed their practices to reduce the amount of time drivers spend waiting to load or unload?

8. Are there aspects of the current rule that do not increase safety risks or adversely impact driver health and that should be preserved?

The listening sessions will take place Jan. 19 at the Hotel Crystal City National Airport in Arlington, Va.; Jan. 22 at the Hyatt Regency DFW at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; and Jan. 25 at the Doubletree LAX in Los Angeles, all three starting at 9 a.m. local time and end at 5 p.m. or earlier.

Public Citizen contends the current HOS rule increases drivers' fatigue and thus reduces safety on our roads. The American Trucking Associations, the leading voice for the trucking industry, is equally committed to keeping the rule in place. If you have something to offer -- a workable solution would be ideal -- show up and present it or submit it to, referencing Docket FMCSA-2004-19608.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Jan 05, 2010

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