The new hours-of-service rule announced Friday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) drew immediate criticism from both long-haul trucking interests and safety advocates. On one side of the fence trucking interests say while they’re pleased that the changes from the 2003 rule are relatively minor, the more-stringent sleeper rule creates logistical issues. Meanwhile, safety advocates blast the changes for not going far enough—particularly noting its failure to increase the number of off-duty hours.
Public Citizen, which had filed the lawsuit against FMCSA that resulted in a July 2004 court decision to vacate the 2003 rules, said that new rule “is a disappointment.”
Public Citizen argued that the increase in the allowable weekly driving time and on-duty hours will result in fatigued truck drivers and the court vacated the rule because the agency failed to consider its impact on driver health.
“[The new rule] is virtually unchanged from a 2003 rule that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down last year,” Public Citizen stated in a news release. “The Bush administration’s own data show that fatalities stemming from large truck crashes are up 3.1% from 2003 to 2004.”
Although there was an increase in number of fatalities in 2004 from 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not issued 2004 truck fatality rate analysis yet. Trucking safety experts point out that number of commercial truck miles traveled in 2004 increased significantly from 2003 due to a bustling economy. Driver fatigue is the cause of 5.5% of all large truck accidents, FMCSA said.
“While we support the portion of the rule that no longer allows drivers to split the time they spend in sleeper berths, the overall increased driving and working time is not supported by the vast body of scientific literature that exists about fatigue and driver safety,” Public Citizen added.
A Public Citizen spokesperson told Fleet Owner there are no plans for court action at the moment.
“Anybody that wants to challenge any aspect of the rules could either ask the agency for reconsideration, or file it to the Court within sixty days of the issuance date [of the new rule],” Robert Digges, an attorney with the American Trucking Assns. Litigation Center, told Fleet Owner. Although Digges has heard of no organization indicating it will challenge the new rule, “the document is almost 400 pages long, so it takes a while to read and digest before anyone could make a decision.”
The new rule offer a more stringent sleeper berth exception, which allows two periods of off-duty time totaling 10 hours, so long as the driver spends one eight-hour period in the sleeper berth. The 2003 rule allows for 10-hours of off-duty time be divided into two periods, so long as neither period is less than two hours.
“The biggest impact is on team operations with two drivers who share driving responsibilities,” David Berry, Truckload Carriers Assn. chairman told Fleet Owner. It is common practice for team drivers to split the 10-hour off-duty time in half so that each driver shares equal time behind the wheel, Berry explained.
“Many of our members called and voiced concern, but at this early date there really has been no time for an understanding for [the new provision]. It’s hard to get an even rhythm going on that. Until we get a chance to model around that for a two-driver team there are a lot of questions.”
“The split sleeper berth is going to mean more drivers and more expense,” Gary Petty, president & CEO of National Private Truck Council told Fleet Owner. “This applies especially where you have drivers that are loading and unloading in addition to driving.
“But it’s hard to predict the impact,” Petty acknowledged. “When we had the  hours-of-service, there was great concern about adverse impacts. When we got into it we were able to make adjustments and got more advantages than anticipated.”
Glenn F. Brown, chairman & CEO of Contract Freighters, Inc. said, "The impact is expected to be felt mostly by our team drivers and on our just-in-time schedules. We do not expect there to be any major impact to our service for our customers."
For additional HOS coverage, go to FMCSA’s Sandberg presents new HOS.