Personal Injury

Hours of service changes: fans and foes weigh in

If the trucking industry has its way with the federal government’s proposed Hours-of-Service changes, the revisions will fail to take effect this summer. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced on December 23 that it is seeking to revise some Bush-era HOS rules, and opened the proposed changes to public comments before enacting final changes in late July. While these proposed changes have firm backing by safety advocates and others, trucking industry professionals and associations are voicing sharp objections.

Current federal regulations stipulate that commercial truckers are allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours in any one workday. The FMCSA has proposed dropping the maximum number of daily driving hours to 10, the limit before the Bush administration increased them.

That would mean commercial drivers would have 60 hours of driving time per week instead of the current 70. However, truckers could restart the work week by taking 34 hours off, but the proposed HOS changes would require them to include two consecutive off-duty periods between midnight and 6 a.m. specifically, while allowing only one restart in any seven-day period. The proposed changes would require truck drivers to complete all work within a 14-hour period, which includes the day’s driving, a one-hour break, and all loading or unloading.

Critics of the proposed rules assert that the changes will be bad for commercial carriers, drivers, and business in general in these economically challenging times. Another drawback these more restrictive hours would pose, they say, would include an increase of road traffic during daylight hours, generating more traffic and pollution. The fact that there are fewer rest areas in many regions, thanks to state budget cuts, is another reason some opponents say the new rules would be problematic.

Support for the proposed rule changes comes from truck safety groups and other safety advocates, labor unions, truck crash victims and survivors, and many commercial truck drivers who, as Public Citizen put it, “are forced to work sweatshop hours.” Some supporters even say the proposed changes aren’t strict enough because they will do little to correct the long hours, lack of rest, and fatigue truck drivers experience on the job.

Professional drivers generally are the safest drivers on the road, but all of them are susceptible to falling asleep behind the wheel with tons of cargo in tow. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, driver fatigue is the cause of 30 to 40 percent of all commercial truck crashes.

The outcome of the proposed rule changes may be uncertain, but one thing is for sure: the federal government will continue to walk a very tight rope between business interests and the need to improve safety.