FMCSA delays proposed hours-of-service rule changes

By Thomas J. Bukowski, associate editor

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed hours-of-service rule changes, originally set to be published Oct. 28, have been delayed, according to an agency statement released at press time. “FMCSA will continue to work toward publishing a final rule as quickly as possible,” the statement said. The agency was scheduled to provide a status update on Nov. 28.

FMCSA began work on the proposed rule in response to an ongoing legal dispute by a coalition of safety interest groups to tighten the Department of Transportation’s HOS rule, citing health and safety concerns with the pre-existing rule.

The agency is considering reducing commercial motor vehicle drivers’ 11-hour maximum daily driving time to 10 hours as well as reducing maximum daily on-duty hours to 13 from 14.  A provision that allows drivers to work more weekly hours if they take 34 consecutive hours off would be limited to once per week and would include the stipulation that drivers take two rest periods from midnight to 6 a.m.

The proposed rule has faced resistance from politicians and interest groups such as the Arlington, VA-based American Trucking Associations. ATA and other industry groups claim the rule would reduce productivity in the trucking industry; some question whether the changes would measurably improve driver safety. On Oct. 19, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) attempted to introduce an amendment to a Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation Appropriations bill that would have blocked the proposed rule changes. “My amendment would prevent the administration from implementing these rules, which by DOT’s own admission, are cost-prohibitive and whose impact on safety is unclear,” Ayotte said in a statement.

In a letter to Ayotte urging the senator to not introduce the amendment, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said the proposed changes would improve the health and efficiency of motor carrier drivers and improve safety on the roads. LaHood also said the new rules were drafted using the “most comprehensive and up-to-date data and analysis.”

Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel for the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety – an organization that has called for stricter HOS rules – told Safety+Health that FMCSA should use the delay to base its proposed rule on science and research. He referenced the results of a study introduced to the courts in 2004 that found after eight straight hours of driving, crash risk increased exponentially. Allowing the maximum driving time to remain at 11 hours is “an unnecessary and unreasonable risk to take with people’s lives,” he said. Jasny also said that other changes in the proposed rule, such as limitations to the 34-hour restart, would reduce motor carrier drivers’ propensity to sleep during the daytime – a change that would help protect their health and ability to concentrate.

In an interview with S+H, Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Greenbelt, MD-based Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance – which represents agencies that would be enforcing the proposed rule – said it is important that FMCSA does whatever it needs to do to make the best decision regarding the rule. “The important thing from our perspective that everyone needs to do is stay focused on the objective, which is to ensure safety and that we have enforceable regulations and to not get lost in all the litigation going on,” Keppler said. “We need to make sure we are focused on the right thing and allow FMCSA to do its job.”

Sean McNally, spokesperson for American Trucking Associations, said FMCSA should use the delay to consider the input it has received from thousands of truck drivers and law enforcement officers on the proposed rule changes. He argues that the current rule works and that “there is no need to break something that is not broken.” DOT instead should be focused on enforcing the current HOS rules and other motor carrier safety concerns, McNally said.

The proposed rule changes were sent to the Office of Management and Budget on Nov. 1 for review.  

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