Longer mandatory rest times anger truckers

New rules raise hours between shifts from 8 to 10

February 08, 2004|By Peter Dujardin | Peter Dujardin,DAILY PRESS

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - At about 4 a.m. Friday, Ernest Theodorovich drove his 18-wheel car carrier into the parking lot of Miller Mart truck stop on Route 460 in Suffolk, Va. He soon fell asleep for the night in his rig's spacious cabin.

But when Theodorovich, 42, awoke about noon, he couldn't simply hit the road as he was able to do for most of his 20-year trucking career. Instead, he had to wait for two more hours, looking for something to do.

That's because new federal rules that took effect Jan. 5 require truckers to wait 10 hours between shifts, rather than the previous eight. Because Theodorovich stopped driving at 4 a.m., he couldn't be back on the road until 2 p.m.

And that doesn't sit well with him or other long-haul truckers around the country. Though he tries to make good use of his new waiting time - on Friday he called his wife, cleaned his cabin, and took a shower - he sees no reason why he couldn't have been driving.

"When I go to work, I want to be moving," explained Theodorovich, a resident of Zuni, Va. "You have to just sit there and wait or you take a chance of being pulled over and fined. For someone who has never done this job - the government - to tell me I need more rest, I think it's wrong."

It's also hurting Theodorovich in his paycheck. Two hours of waiting around a day can translate into 10 hours of wait time a week. He used to gross between $1,500 and $1,800 a week, but that fell by about $350 a week last month.

The rules also reduce on-duty time each shift, which includes driving, unloading, fueling up and making repairs. Total working hours are reduced to 14 hours a shift from 15. But, in a move designed to help the truckers, the maximum driving time for each shift has been increased to 11 hours from the 10 under the old rules.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an arm of the Department of Transportation, developed the rules, saying they will prevent as many as 1,326 fatigue-related crashes and save 75 lives a year. There were an estimated 4,902 truck-related fatalities in traffic crashes in 2002, the Transportation Department says.

Truckers interviewed last week said that not everyone needs 10 hours a night - that some drivers can operate just fine with less rest without sacrificing safety.

Rick Durham, 50, from Seaford, Del., who carries live hogs back and forth between farms in Pennsylvania and processing plants in Virginia and North Carolina, says he doesn't push himself too much anymore, so he typically rests more than 10 hours between his shifts.

Still, he said, if a trucker wants to drive, the government shouldn't tell him otherwise.

The American Trucking Association first opposed more stringent restrictions, noting that speeding, not trucker fatigue, was the biggest factor in accidents involving large trucks. But in the end, the group agreed to the new rules.

The Daily Press in Newport News, Va., is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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