Disputed trucker hours to continue

U.S. leaves intact a rule letting long-haul drivers go 11 hours without rest

August 20, 2005|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration declined to downshift yesterday on the number of hours a long-haul trucker can drive without rest, and drew immediate criticism from highway safety activists.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced new "hours of service" regulations on the trucking industry, but it left intact a controversial, two-year-old provision allowing drivers to stay on the road 11 hours without a required rest.

The new rules apply to 3 million drivers in the $600 billion trucking industry, including Canadian and Mexican truckers who drive within U.S. borders.

"This agency is still asleep at the wheel," said Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a coalition of consumer, health, medical and safety groups and insurance companies.

Noting that a federal court in 2004 stopped the agency's original move to increase a 10-hour driving limit that had been in effect for six decades, Gillan said, "They've taken the rule that was rejected by the court and repackaged it as something new and different."

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook called the new rules "a disappointment. ... The rolling time bombs are going to continue on the highway."

Annette M. Sandberg, the agency's administrator, said the 400 pages of new rules are backed by more than 1,000 articles and studies on driver fatigue and thousands of comments from drivers, truck companies and safety advocates.

"The research shows this new rule will improve driver health and safety and the safety of our roadways," she said.

Like the regulations adopted in 2003 and later challenged, the new rules prohibit truckers from driving more than 11 hours straight. They also bar working longer than a 14-hour shift and driving more than 60 hours over seven days or 70 hours over eight days, Sandberg said.

The new rules increase the number of hours that a trucker must rest between shifts from eight to 10.

Another change requires truckers who use sleeper berths to rest for eight hours in a row and take another two hours off duty before starting a new shift.

Currently, drivers may break up their required rest time in the berths. Sandberg said studies show that drivers are less fatigued if they take a single eight-hour block of rest rather than shorter periods.

The highway safety advocates applauded that change but lamented that the agency did not move toward requiring global positioning systems or other high-tech monitors to replace driver logbooks, which critics charge allow cheating.

Dave Berry, chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association, applauded the changes but said there has not been time to assess the "change that will potentially have the biggest impact," the new rules on sleeper berths.

"We need to closely examine the impact of the new `sleeper berth' rule," agreed Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Association, "particularly team drivers that are so critical to our just-in-time economy."

Sandberg said the new rules, which take effect Oct. 1, will cost the long-haul industry about $10 million a year.

She also announced new rules for short-haul truck drivers who travel less than 150 miles a day and don't require a commercial driver's license for their job.

These drivers - for landscape crews or retail deliveries, for instance - will not longer be required to keep a logbook. And two days a week, they will be allowed to work 16-hour days, including breaks - an exemption to the 14-hour limit on the workday of a long-distance driver.

Sandberg said these short-haul drivers make up 52 percent of all commercial drivers but are only involved in 7 percent of the fatigue-related fatal truck crashes.

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