States can follow or reject that recommendation
Commercial truck drivers not following new rules governing the hours they can drive will face aggressive education coupled with discretionary enforcement for 60 days starting Jan. 4, the day the overhauled rules take effect, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.
The decision is meant to ensure long-term compliance and understanding of the new safety rules, Mineta added. The new rule represents the first major rewrite of hours-of-service rules in more than 60 years.
“As we get closer to the implementation date, we are finding that too many truckers still have questions about these rules,” Mineta said. “It's our version of on-the-job training for drivers who aren't sure how or whether the new safety rules apply to them.”
He said states would be asked to write warnings instead of citations for all but flagrant violations, and to use every stop as an opportunity to educate drivers about the new rules. Inspectors from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will coordinate education and enforcement efforts from regional offices across the country.
The decision also gives DOT officials time to work out a solution with Congress on rules for truck drivers who work for public utilities and respond to emergency outages.
Meanwhile, some carriers are announcing higher pay levels for truckers in anticipation of the new HOS rules, which are expected to increase consumer costs and freight rates.
For example, increases worth an estimated $3,200 to $5,000 a year are in the works for independent contractors operating within Dart Transit Co.'s dispatch system.
“Dart is planning new contractor mileage rates, and the first increases become effective during the first quarter of 2004,” David Oren, executive vice president for Dart, said. “Dart has operated with independent contractors for 70 years, so we understand that happy and profitable contractors provide the excellent service our customers expect. Our success depends on our contractors.”
Details on the rate increases are still being finalized, but according to Dart, they will include a combination of higher mileage rates and higher payments for unloading, stop-pay, and detention. Oren said the new rates are meant to offset rising operating costs and lower productivity from the new hours-of-service rules.
“We expect that the new hours-of-service rules will cut into driver productivity,” Oren said. “We're approaching that problem in three ways. First, we're working with our customers to reduce waiting time at their facilities. That will help our contractors make the most of their available driving time. Second, we're raising mileage rates. Third, we're increasing payment for time-consuming activities such as unloading and multiple stops.”
In the meantime, detailed information about the new HOS rule is at www.fmcsa.dot.gov, and the FMCSA staff has a toll-free telephone line around the clock to answer drivers' questions. The phone number is 1-800-598-5664.