U.S. Opts Against Lowering Daily Trucker Hours

By John Crawley | December 27, 2011

The Obama administration decided against a cut in truckers’ daily hours behind the wheel, to the dismay of safety advocates, but made other changes aimed at fighting driver fatigue.

The rule issued on Thursday continues to permit drivers to be on the road for up to 11 hours daily, something favored by the trucking industry, but would reduce by 12 hours the maximum number of hours a driver can work within a week to 70 hours.

A 34-hour gap between the end of one week and the start of another remains unchanged, under the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rule. But truckers cannot drive after working eight hours without first taking a break of at least 30 minutes.

The rule takes effect in 18 months and would apply to the operations of companies like FedEx Corp, UPS Inc and YRC Worldwide.

More than a decade in the making and the subject of two court appeals, it is the most comprehensive trucker rule rewrite in more than 65 years.

The agency considered imposing a 10-hour daily maximum but said scientific data did not support a reduction. The rule puts more emphasis on limits to driver hours over a week or more.

Consumer and safety groups said they may go to court again over the 11-hour provision, first imposed by the Bush administration. The last federal appeals challenge involved a settlement in 2009 to let the Obama administration come up with a plan.

“We’re still looking for some kind of rationale,” for the rule said Henry Jasny, general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which spearheaded previous legal challenges along with unions and consumer interests.

The trucking industry favors the longer daily driving limit to maintain capacity, but criticized a provision aimed at giving drivers more flexibility for rest breaks during overnight hours.

The trade group American Trucking Associations said the rule would increase heavy truck traffic on highways during busy morning commuting periods. Most truck crashes occur between 6 a.m. and noon, it said.

Large truck crash deaths rose more than 8.7 percent in 2010 to 3,675 from a year earlier, according to Transportation Department figures. Most of those killed were occupants of passenger cars involved in accidents with large trucks.

Fatigue was cited in between 1.4 to 2.1 percent of truck-related fatal crashes between 1999-2007, according to the latest government safety data.

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said in a statement the new standard was written after “robust input from all areas of the trucking community” and included scientific analysis.

The Teamsters union, which has fought the trucker rule proposals in court, did not endorse the Obama effort.

Teamsters President James Hoffa represents more than 100,000 long haul truckers, and said the group was reviewing the rule and would soon determine “our next course of action.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association of small-business and professional truckers said the administration approach amounted to a “one-size-fits-all” measure that would not improve safety.

Safety groups were equally disappointed.

“Driving for 11 consecutive hours has been shown to result in the highest levels of crash risk for truck drivers,” said a statement by Jasny’s group.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced a rule cutting the work day for airline pilots.

(Reporting By John Crawley)

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