The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) decision yesterday not to alter the 11-hour drive time and 34-hour restart provisions within the current Hours of Service (HOS) regulations isn’t coming as a major surprise to the trucking industry.
“Most people expected this – and maintaining the status quo is probably the best thing right now,” Eric Starks, president of research firm FTR Associates, told FleetOwner.
“What the industry doesn’t like is uncertainty and changing those provisions would have created havoc,” he said. “The calculations we did found that if the FMCSA reduced driving time, the industry would have needed to put 200,000 additional trucks on the road just to handle current freight volume. And the industry is having a hard enough time as it is finding drivers.”
Groups representing the trucking industry are obviously pleased with FMCSA’s decision not to change either provision. The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) welcomes the ruling, as ATA believes those provisions have led to significant decreases in the number of fatal large truck crashes, the fatal large truck crash rate, the number of injuries from truck-involved crashes and the injury crash rate.
“FMCSA has made an important contribution to highway safety by keeping in force Hours of Service rules that have led to a reduction in deaths and injuries over the last several years,” said Gov. Bill Graves, president & CEO of ATA.
“We agree with the agency’s decision and appreciate its efforts toward ensuring that professional truckers aren’t hamstrung by regulations that limit their discretion and unnecessarily keep them on the road, tired or not,” added Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).
The groups opposed to the new HOS rules – particularly Public Citizen and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters – are, of course, unhappy with FMCSA’s decision, especially as it was their joint lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that got those two provisions thrown out in a July 24 ruling.
“How many times must the FMCSA be told to improve working conditions for truck drivers before it gets it right? Apparently, more than twice,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, in a statement. “The agency’s … interim rule … is practically identical to two rules that the courts struck down earlier this year and in 2004.
The third time is not the charm.”
“It’s clear the Bush administration has more loyalty to its corporate supporters than to the men and women who actually drive on our roads,” said Teamsters’ general president James Hoffa. “The FMCSA in particular is showing that it is held captive by the trucking industry.”
Hoffa noted that the 39-page opinion issued by Judge Merrick Garland this summer called the current HOS rules “arbitrary and capricious” and added that the Teamsters do not believe there is evidence that the new rule is safer. “There has been no peer-reviewed study published that shows this rule is safer than the previous rule,” Hoffa said.
FMCSA countered those allegations by using new data in its reply to the court’s decision to support the agency’s conclusions, For example, the number of truck-involved fatalities decreased 4.7% in 2006 – from 5,240 in 2005 to 4,995 in 2006, the largest percentage drop in truck-involved fatalities since 1992 – and the number of truck-involved-crash injuries decreased by almost 2,000 in 2005 and dropped another 8,000 in 2006.
Those statistics – plus data collected by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that showed there is no increase in crash risk in the 11th hour of driving – convinced FMCSA to keep the 11-hour drive time limit and 34-hour restart rules in place, said John Hill, the agency’s chief administrator.
“Keep in mind, my initial evaluation of any rule in this agency focuses on its safety impact,” Hill said in a conference call with reporters. “And we had data on hand that we didn’t have in 2005 that allowed us to really look at the safety impact of these rules. There’s been a lot of innuendo, but the numbers clearly show that the fatality rate is going down and that there’s been no creeping up in injury rates.”
Hill added that the agency is ready to go to the mat to back up its decision. “The people who have litigated in the past against these rules will most likely do so again,” he said. “We are prepared to go to court to defend these rules.”