Arlington, VA: In a self-described effort to get the hours of service rules “right” for professional truck drivers, the Obama Administration missed the mark in many ways with its Dec. 23, 2010 proposal, says the American Trucking Associations.
The proposal is “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking’s productivity,” says Bill Graves, president and CEO of the ATA.
The proposal has three main elements. It would: (1) likely reduce the maximum daily driving time to 10 hours; (2) reduce the maximum daily working time window by an additional hour; and, (3) counter to the government’s news release, abolish the 34-hour restart as it exists today.
The trucking industry’s safety performance while operating under the hours of service rules in place since 2004 “has been remarkable” says Graves. Crash-related fatalities are down 33 percent from the 2003 level; both fatality and injury crash rates are at their lowest level since the USDOT began keeping records. Trucking’s never been safer.
“When viewed against trucking’s sterling safety record,” says Graves, “it’s plain that the Obama Administration’s willingness to break something that’s not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health.”
Hard-pressed to argue safety benefits of further restricting truck driver productivity, the Obama Administration is trying to justify its proposed changes as needed to improve driver health. A big problem for the Obama Administration, however, is that FMCSA has consistently gone on record over the last five years, with supporting information and data, stating the current rules are having no negative effect on driver health.
Especially troubling is this Administration’s disregard for the negative safety impacts the proposed changes would have – impacts expressly recognized by FMCSA in the past.
For example, FMCSA previously found that the 11th hour of driving time does not increase driver weekly hours; is used for flexibility purposes; does not increase driver-fatigue risks; and that eliminating it would promote more aggressive driving (to meet time constraints) and lead to placing tens of thousands of less experienced drivers on the road who would pose greater crash risks.
With respect to the 34 hour restart, FMCSA has correctly found in the past that requiring two nights of sleep would disrupt drivers’ circadian cycle and add to more daytime driving in congested periods, again increasing crashes. FMCSA’s reversal on these crucial matters is hard to explain in other than political terms.
The changes proposed today “will be enormously expensive for trucking and the economy” says Graves. FMCSA estimated, just two years ago, costs of over $2.2 billion if the daily drive time was reduced by one hour and the restart provision was significantly changed. In fact, FMCSA had concluded that “eliminating the 11th hour is unlikely to be cost effective under any reasonable set of circumstances.”
“This proposal includes even more restrictions than what FMCSA previously considered” says Graves, and “as a result, we will be evaluating FMCSA’s proposed costs and benefits very carefully.”