US Court Overturns the Driver Hours of Service Ruling
The new HOS rules that were put in place in 2005 in the United States were based on a considerable amount of research. They increased the daily driving time while increasing a driver's rest period. The U.S. Court of Appeals advised that more data is required to support the change and ruled that there must be a return to the allowable 10 hour driving time. This ruling was made despite the fact that truck driver accidents were down 4.7% from the previous year. The following is an article from the head of the American Trucking Association that has appeared in a number of U.S. newspapers. It makes for interesting reading.
Trucking Rules Furor Misses the Key – Safety
Appeared in The Kansas City Star, Aug. 18, 2007, Sacramento Bee, Aug. 18, 2007, The Southern Illinoisan, Aug. 18, 2007, Billings Gazette, Aug. 18, 2007
A court decision affecting the work hours of professional truck drivers could erase a rule that contributed to a 4.7 percent decline in large truck related crash deaths in 2006—unless cooler heads prevail. Unfortunately, reactions to the court decision have been uninformed and narrowly focused on a single aspect of the regulations.
The federal government established hours-of-service rules more than 60 years ago to set a national standard for driver work-day limits and minimum rest levels. In January 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration updated those rules at the behest of Congress to better align the rules with our current knowledge of sleep science. For our professional drivers, the updated rules meant safer highways. They linked driver alertness, safety and the business of “delivering America” on time.
In July, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that FMCSA must provide better justification for adopting two provisions governing driver work and rest time. These provisions set maximum driving time at 11 hours per shift, and allowed truck drivers the ability to re-start their work week after at least 34 consecutive hours of rest.
Under the current rules, the allowed driving time was increased by one hour to a total of 11 hours. Critics fixate on this change, but with the same rules, mandatory rest time was increased significantly and the overall length of a work shift was reduced. Critics should consider the totality of the regulations and their effect, rather than focus on a single change.
Currently, drivers must take at least 10 hours of rest between every work shift--an increase of two hours of rest from the old rules. And work shifts are now capped at 14 consecutive hours, reduced from the previous 15 hours, which was not consecutive and could be stopped and started throughout a lengthy shift.
Drivers are also permitted to “restart” their work week after taking at least 34 consecutive off-duty hours. This promotes a more regular work-rest cycle for drivers. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals’ ruling will actually eliminate the ability to restart the driver’s clock after 34 consecutive hours of rest.
Without it, truck drivers are more likely to have irregular work schedules, which will cause more fatigue. Many of the truck drivers that we have heard from favored the voluntary 34-hour restart because it encourages drivers to take a break long enough to become fully rested, yet it also allows their driving schedule to coexist with natural sleep rhythms.
Contrary to statements made by truck industry critics, the court’s ruling was procedural in nature. It is misleading to suggest, as some have, that the legal decision serves as evidence that the HOS regulations promulgated in 2005 are unsafe.
For its part, the American Trucking Associations is seeking a stay from the Court to keep the current rules in place in order to allow FMCSA to address the procedural flaws that were identified.
ATA has also asked Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters to push for a stay of the Court of Appeals ruling as there was no compelling safety reason to eliminate the two provisions the Court challenged.
The transition to the current HOS rules required significant operational changes and challenges for the trucking industry. Similarly, shifting gears would force motor carriers to retrain millions of drivers and undo technological changes they have made to accommodate the current rules.
At the same time, a disruption in the enforcement of the hours-of-service regulations would ensue.
In the past year, trucking’s challenges have been overcome, and the rules have been contributed to enhanced truck safety. Statistics bear this out.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued its truck-involved fatality figures for 2006. The number of fatalities declined by 4.7 percent from 2005 to 2006, the largest drop in 14 years. The fatality rate is now at its lowest point ever. These facts speak volumes.
Furthermore, a study by the American Transportation Research Institute found that most drivers experienced less fatigue and preferred the 11 hours driving, 10 hours off, and 34-hour restart provisions.
The motor carrier industry and ATA’s members understand their responsibility to the motoring public and the competitive advantage of operating safely and securely. The No. 1 commodity delivered by truck is safety.
Bill Graves, a former governor of Kansas, is the President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.