SPECIAL REPORT: New HOS regs may eliminate split-sleeper berth provision

| 8/19/2005

The waiting game is over. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Annette Sandberg rolled out the new hours-of-service regulations at a press conference in Washington D.C. Friday, Aug. 19.

Essential elements such as the 34-hour restart, 14 hours of on-duty time, 11 hours of driving time stayed the same. The new rule also continues to allow drivers to work 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period.

However, changes to the rules include what could very well nullify the benefits of the split-sleeper berth provision that currently allows truckers to extend their 14 hours of on-duty time.

"The sleeper berth exemption is still in the rule," said OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig. "However, now, one of the two sleeper berth periods must be at least eight consecutive hours long.

"The good news is, the second period - which when added to the first must total 10 hours - can be taken in the sleeper berth or off-duty or any combination of the two.

"The bad news is, that second period counts against the 14-hour clock. In other words, only the eight consecutive hour period will stop the clock."

Craig said OOIDA will look further into the language and where needed seek clarification.

A federal appeals court tossed the current HOS in July 2004. The court ruled that the regulations did not properly consider drivers' health. In its decision, announced July 16, 2004, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit called the HOS rules "arbitrary and capricious."

That ruling sent FMCSA back to the drawing board. The April 2003 HOS rules were left in effect but not indefinitely, as they are scheduled to expire Sept. 30.

After waiting for more than a year to find out if FMCSA was going to change the hours-of-service regulations to address the concerns raised by a U.S. Court of Appeals, the agency essentially stood behind the current rules, with only the few changes.

"We developed the new hours of service rules with the priority in mind of reducing fatigue-related truck crashes," Sandberg said in the press conference.

Sandberg went on to point out that research shows that only 5.5 percent of all truck crashes are fatigue related.

Throughout the press conference Sandberg emphasized that agency officials had not only reviewed numerous studies relating to fatigue, driver health, etc., but that FMCSA officials also consulted with driver health and fatigue experts. The more than 1,600 comments submitted in the January 2005 comment period regarding the impact of HOS on driver health were also noted as being considered by FMCSA officials.

- By Jami Jones, staff editor