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Amber Alert

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Trucking industry debates 11-hour rule

Is it any less safe for a truck driver to be on the road for 11 hours than 10 hours?

The debate over the one-hour difference in “hours of service” has raged since 2003, and it doesn’t look to subside anytime soon.

Federal regulators two weeks ago reiterated a rule originally issued in 2003 that allows over-the-road drivers to work 11 hours followed by 10 hours of rest. Issued by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the ruling also preserved the provision that allows a driver’s workweek to restart after 34 hours of rest. That replaced the traditional weekend’s rest of two days.

In issuing its interim rule while awaiting public comment, agency administrator John Hill said the government’s data show that vehicle fatality rates fell to an all-time low last year. In addition, fatigue-related truck crashes in the 11th hour of driving have been negligible since 2003.

“This proposal keeps in place hours-of-service limits that improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers are rested and ready to work,” Hill said in a statement. “The data makes clear that these rules continue to protect drivers, make our roads safer and keep our economy moving.”

The American Trucking Associations, which represents big carriers like United Parcel Service Inc. and YRC Worldwide Inc., supported the agency’s ruling. The changes create natural rest and work cycles while giving the industry flexibility, according to the group.

“ATA supports the new hours-of-service rules because they are working,” said Dave Osiecki, the trade group’s vice president of safety, security and operations.

It’s a decision that has been struck down in federal courts twice, but only for procedural errors. Consumer and safety groups as well as the Teamsters union went back to federal appeals court again last week seeking to vacate the rule once again.

“The Bush administration’s arrogance in believing it is above the law will force the nation’s truck drivers to continue enduring sweatshop-like working conditions,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group involved in the lawsuit. “Tired drivers are putting themselves and all of us who share the highways with them at risk.”

The Teamsters agreed, saying the new rules allow drivers to work 17 more hours a week than previously. Union President Jim Hoffa said there are no peer-reviewed studies showing the new rule is safer than the old one.

“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,” Hoffa said in a statement.

YRC could not be reached for comment on the hours-of-service ruling. However, the company and industry analysts have stated previously that the unionized less-than-truckload carriers are not substantially affected by hours-of-service rules. The regulations mostly affect the nonunion, truckload industry.

While both supporters and opponents of the 11-hour rule cite crash and fatality statistics, one trucking group has maintained the debate is misguided.

“The agency (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ) has to address the real problem, which is drivers waiting to load or unload their trucks, which counts as part of their driving time,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association in Grain Valley.