A new federal rule that further limits the number of hour's commercial truck drivers can spend behind the wheel was recently announced by Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood.
The rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reduces the maximum work week to 70 hours. Under the old rule, drivers could work up to 82 hours on average within the seven-day period.
Also, truck drivers cannot drive after working eight hours without taking a minimum 30-minute break. Breaks can be taken whenever they need rest during the eight-hour window. The latest rule retains the current 11-hour daily driving limit.
Earl McCardle, president of Fanelli Trucking Co. Inc., Pottsville, said most companies already follow a 70-hour work week, but FMCSA originally wanted to reduce the daily driving limit to 10 hours.
"Our company, as well as the entire trucking industry, felt that the proposed one-hour reduction in the work day would have had an enormous impact on productivity and only exacerbate the shortage of drivers that currently plagues our industry," McCardle said. "I am pleased to see that they did not implement the reduction to a 10-hour work day."
Truck drivers who maximize their weekly work hours are required to take at least two nights' rest when their body demands sleep the most -- from 1 to 5 a.m. This rest requirement is part of the rule's "34-hour restart" provision that allows drivers to restart the clock on their work week by taking at least 34 consecutive hour's off-duty. The final rule allows drivers to use the restart provision only once during a seven-day period.
"This will have an impact on driver productivity," McCardle said. "Lower productivity within our industry will ultimately result in higher consumer prices to the public. However, the impact on production is less than what was originally predicted."
The FMCSA revised the safety requirements after hosting six public listening sessions across the country and encouraged safety advocates, drivers, truck company owners, law enforcement and the public to share their thoughts on the current rules. The sessions were also broadcasted live on the FMCSA website and allowed even more people to participate in the development of the rule.
The rule will be published Tuesday in the Federal Register. The effective date of the final rule is Feb. 27, 2012, and the compliance date is July 1, 2013.
Companies and drivers violating the rule could face the maximum penalties for each offense. Trucking companies that allow drivers to exceed the 11-hour driving limit by three or more hours could be fined $11,000 per offense, and the drivers themselves could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense.
"The purpose of the changes in the hours of service rules according to the FMCSA is to reduce driver fatigue and thus reduce fatal commercial truck accidents," McCardle said. "What the industry wants the public to know is that fatal truck accidents have been reduced by 30 percent since 2008 and continues to decline. I think that this is a compromise both the industry and the public can live by and I expect that trend to continue."
For more information on the new rule, visit: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/topics/hos-final/hos-final-rule.aspx