Bigger and better

| October 05, 2005

Electronic onboard recorders – another issue raised by the appeals court – were not addressed in the new hours-of-service rule. Technical specifications and costs need further study, Sandberg said.

“The importance and complexity of electronic onboard recorder issues warrants a specific and separate rulemaking,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg said she expects to announce a rulemaking on onboard recorders in early 2006.

The president of Public Citizen called the new rule a disappointment, “virtually unchanged” from the previous rule. “Like the 2003 rule, today’s proposed rule makes permanent a dramatic increase in the allowable weekly driving time and on-duty hours for truckers,” said Joan Claybrook, who led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under President Carter.

“The overall increased driving and working time is not supported by the vast body of scientific literature that exists about fatigue and driver safety,” Claybrook said. “Nor does this proposal help drivers get on a 24-hour circadian schedule.”

The new hours regulations “are as we expected, because the agency indicated they wanted to keep the rules they had in place,” said Todd Spencer, spokesman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “From the drivers we talked to, that change in the regulation is going to take some flexibility away from them.”

Teams especially will be affected, Spencer said. “Team drivers rarely sleep eight consecutive hours. That will create a challenge. How great that challenge is, and what will we do about it, remain to be seen.”

Bill Graves, American Trucking Associations president and chief executive officer, agreed that team drivers are a focus of concern. “We need to closely examine the impact of the new sleeper berth rule on trucking companies and their drivers, particularly team drivers, that are so critical to our just-in-time economy,” Graves said.

Overall, the rule announcement confirms ATA research that the current hours rule has improved highway safety, Graves said.

The new rule means couples who drive trucks with sleeper berths “are not going to have the flexibility of dividing” their driving time, said Buster Anderson, vice president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.

Still, Anderson said the new regulations “could have been a whole lot worse.”

The Truckload Carriers Association is pleased that most regulations, including drive time for single drivers, remained intact, said Dave Berry, TCA chairman. Beyond that, “It’s just a little early to jump to any conclusions” about the impact of the new rule, Berry said.

Whether the latest rule will prove to be “bullet-proof” from litigation remains to be seen, Sandberg said. “There’s always a good chance that someone might challenge it,” she said.

In her initial response, Claybrook of Public Citizen did not mention further litigation, saying only, “We sincerely hope that in the coming weeks the agency will reconsider this issue and redraft the rule.”

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