Saying that they are fully committed to issuing an hours-of-service final rule this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) offered an Interim Final Rule (Federal Register Dec. 17), hoping to address court objections that twice vacated the agency's ruling on how long truckers can drive.
“This proposal keeps in place hours-of-service limits that improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers are rested and ready to work,” FMCSA Administrator John H. Hill said. “The data makes clear that these rules continue to protect drivers, make our roads safer and keep our economy moving.”
The IFR maintains the current 11-hour driving day and allows drivers 77 hours behind the wheel during a seven-day period before they must take 34 hours off.
Hill cited data noting that in 2006 the fatality rate per 100-million vehicle miles traveled was 1.94, the lowest rate ever recorded. Since 2003, FMCSA data show, the percentage of large trucks involved in fatigue-related fatal crashes in the 11th hour of driving has remained below the average of the years 1991-2002.
In 2005 alone, there was only one large truck involved in a fatigue-related fatal crash in the 11th hour of driving while in 2004 there were none, Hill said. Moreover, between 2003 — when the 11-hour driving limit and the 34-hour restart were adopted — and 2006, the percent of fatigue-related large truck crashes relative to all fatal large truck crashes has remained consistent.
At a Dec. 19 Senate hearing, Teamster officials took issue with these statistics. LaMond Byrd, director of safety and health for the Teamsters, said the fatality data is “cherry-picked” and doesn't represent a true reading of 11th hour driving. He also noted that FMCSA stated in the past that the risk of a crash doubles from the 8th hour to the 9th hour of driving, and doubles again from the 10th hour to the 11th.
Other opponents have also noted that FMCSA's statistics miss the point of the court's decision. Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, noted: “FMCSA still believes the way to address the problem of fatigued drivers behind the wheels of big truck rigs is to allow them to drive even more hours then past rules allowed. This is contrary to what the appeals court told the agency…and it's contrary to what's rational.”
Perhaps the most vocal opponent, Public Citizen, said: “How many times must [FMCSA] be told to improve working conditions for truck drivers before it gets it right?…The agency released yet another interim rule governing the number of hours truckers can drive without stopping that's practically identical to two rules the courts struck down ….”
Both court rulings noted that the panels were not necessarily against the increased driving time of 11 hours instead of 10, but that FMCSA failed to show its methodology for proving their assertions about the safety of additional driving time.
This IFR hopes to correct the error, Hill said. “…the D.C. Circuit found fault with various procedures related to the Agency's adoption of the 11-hour limit and the 34-hour restart, but not with their substance,” the IFR states. “This analysis included a review of the safety data concerning motor carrier operations, particularly with respect to fatigue-related fatal crashes.”
The public comment period expires Feb. 15, but Public Citizen on Dec. 19 petitioned the court to vacate the IFR, saying that it violates the court's orders and the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies propose and establish regulations. Other opponents will not be shy about making their opinions known as well.