A Matter of Time

| April 07, 2005

In seven months, truckers will begin operating under a new hours-of-service rule the U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled on April 24. To avoid confusion when Jan. 4, 2003 rolls around, drivers should familiarize themselves with the changes now.

The new rule allows drivers to drive up to 11 consecutive hours but will also force them to take at least 10 consecutive hours off during the shift.

The total number of hours drivers can work in a day will drop from 15 to 14, giving drivers a maximum of 11 hours of driving time and three hours of on-duty, non-driving time for loading, waiting or other activities before they must take 10 consecutive hours off for rest. Sleeper birth splits still exist but have been conformed to the new hours.

Drivers can also still drive 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. They can also restart their week if they take 34 consecutive hours off.

According to transportation officials, the goal of the rule is to address fatigue and safety concerns, while protecting the economic interest of trucking companies.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta say the first major change in the HOS rule in six decades “will make our nation’s highways much safer.”

The original rule was enacted in the late 1930s and avoided any major changes, despite transformations in the nation’s highways and trucks. Written long before air conditioning and the Interstate Highway System, the regulations were designed to prevent accidents and address labor concerns.

Acting Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Annette Sandberg says the agency took into account those changes when it extended the hours truckers could drive. “The (new) rule strikes a balance between uniform, consistent enforcement and the need for operational flexibility,” Sandberg says.

How will the new HOS rule affect safety?

Source: eTrucker poll, 280 respondents

The current rule allows a driver to be on duty for a maximum of 15 hours, with only 10 hours of driving before an eight-hour break. A driver could technically drive up to 16 hours, minus time allowed for pretrip inspections, in a 24-hour period under the rule if he drove 10, slept eight and drove six. The new rule allows a driver to drive 11 hours, take 10 off, and squeeze in another three hours of driving in a 24-hour period.

The new rule, considering the 14-hour on-duty period followed by a 10-hour rest, comes closer to achieving a 24-hour clock. FMCSA says that a work-and-rest cycle, which is consistent with fatigue science, is still a goal of the agency. Future rulemakings will move drivers further toward a normal circadian rhythm, Sandberg says.

The federal government has been planning new HOS rules since 1978 under the old Federal Highway Administration and the Interstate Commerce Commission, but it has been plagued by delays. The most recent revision was announced three years ago and also required 10 consecutive hours off each day. But the rule included longer rest periods, or “weekends” of 36 to 52 hours and electronic onboard recorders. The proposal also delineated between five kinds of local, regional and over-the-road applications.

The plan caused such an uproar among industry and safety groups that a Congressional effort blocked monies for implementation. Trucking companies and truck drivers singled out the on-board recorder as expensive and intrusive, while safety groups objected to the additional hours drivers could operate. More than 53,000 comments were eventually submitted on the proposal, which the FMCSA says it considered in drafting the final rule.

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