New HOS rules to stand, FMCSA says

| Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has denied several requests from companies and groups to change the final hours-of-service rules, published April 28 and which go into effect Jan. 4, 2004.

The previous regulations had been in effect more than 60 years.

The new rules say: Truckers may drive up to 11 hours instead of 10, but are limited to 14 hours in a duty period; the 14-hour duty period may not be extended with off-duty time for meal and fuel stops, etc.; only sleeper berth use can extend the 14-hour on-duty period; each duty period must begin with at least 10 hours off-duty, rather than eight; the 60 hours on-duty in seven consecutive days, or 70 hours on-duty in eight consecutive days, remains the same, but drivers can “restart” the seven/eight-day period by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.

In addition, drivers may split on-duty time by using sleeper berth periods, but must comply with new HOS rules. These drivers may accumulate the equivalent of 10 consecutive hours off-duty by taking 2 periods of rest in the sleeper berth, provided: neither period is less than 2 hours; driving time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not exceed 11 hours; and the on-duty time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not include any driving after the 14th hour.

"The new hours-of-service rule strikes a balance between reasonableness, consistency and enforceability, while improving safety and protecting all highway users," said Annette M. Sandberg, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. "Recognizing that carriers, drivers and law enforcement must prepare for the Jan. 4, 2004, compliance date, we have denied the petitions in sufficient time to allow these groups to meet the compliance deadline.

Requested HOS changes

Generally, companies asked FMCSA to allow off-duty time to extend the 14-hour on-duty limit; to exempt utility vehicles and workers from the hours-of-service regulations; for miscellaneous changes, such as changing the definition of commercial motor vehicles; and to allow early compliance with the new rules before the Jan. 4, 2004, effective date.

Pinnacle West Capital Corp. and its subsidiary Arizona Public Service Co.; Southern California Edison Co.; Edison Electric Institute; FOX News; National Propane Gas Association; Sabil Uplink Communications; the Hours-of-Service Coalition, representing businesses with short-haul trucking operations; and Wal-Mart filed petitions.

Wal-Mart and the coalition filed separate petitions seeking relief from the 14-hour on-duty part of the rule.

Wal-Mart said the rule would cost the company more than $24 million because it would need to buy new trucks and hire more drivers. Additionally, Wal-Mart said it was concerned about safety because of highway congestion and said it would be "forced to hire" many new drivers who may be "inexperienced."

However, FMSCA said it compared the relief sought by each petitioner with the core goals in the rulemaking: improved safety; greater opportunity for rest; movement toward the body's 24-hour clock; and practicality, uniformity and enforceability.

FMCSA says the new rule will save up to 75 lives and prevent as many as 1,326 fatigue-related crashes annually. It says the rule reflects scientific driver fatigue studies, an evaluation of the more than 53,000 public comments and the intent of Congress to safeguard Americans.

The final hours-of-service rule can be viewed on the Internet by searching for docket number FMCSA-97-2350 at http://dms.dot.gov. The rule is document No. 23305 on Page 465 of the table of contents.

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