The Bush administration April 24 announced final rules to allow truckers to drive longer hours but take more time off between shifts under the first hours-of-service changes since 1939.
The new rules, which go into effect Jan. 4, are expected to prevent 1,300 fatigue-related crashes and save 75 lives a year, according to federal officials.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, safety groups and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters criticized the new rules, saying they failed to address real issues facing truckdrivers.
"Federal officials have done little more than shuffle the deck chairs," said Todd Spencer, OOIDA's executive vice president. "The real issue is unproductive and unpaid time truckers are forced to 'donate,' which actually contributes to fatigue. The feds didn't address the heart of the matter, which is the tremendous loss of productivity that actually works against goals the government wants to achieve."
Teamsters spokesman Rob Black said, "(This rule) is something that helps the companies because they can work drivers harder and put them on longer runs."
However, the regulations appeared to please trucking companies.
"This is a package that our members can work with," Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO, said in a statement.
The changes permit drivers to spend up to 11 straight hours behind the wheel, a one-hour increase from the current level. There are no required breaks during that driving time. But truckers also will be required to take off at least 10 hours between shifts, two hours more than now required.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also called for research into new record-keeping technologies - delaying any mandate calling for the use of black boxes inside trucks.
The rule follows this week's report of preliminary numbers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that showed while the total number of highway-related fatalities increased from 2001 to 2002, the fatalities from large truck crashes dropped to 4,902 in 2002, a 3.5 percent decline from the previous year.
Note: To read the press release issued April 24th by OOIDA on the new hours-of-service rules, click here. A more detailed analysis by OOIDA of the ramifications of the new rules will be forthcoming.
To read the FMCSA's driver brochure or the HOS final rule, visit http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/Home_Files/revised_hos.asp.
--by Dick Larsen, senior editor
Dick Larsen can be reached at email@example.com