The latest development in the legal challenge to the hours of service rule leaves it unchanged for the immediate future.
Truck drivers will continue to be limited to driving 11 hours within a 14-hour duty period, after which they must go off duty for at least 10 hours, under an interim final rule made public Dec. 11 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The IFR also preserves the ability to restart cumulative limits by resting for 34 hours.
The agency issued the new hours rule in response to the recent decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacating key provisions of the existing hours of service rule, effective Dec. 27. In order to ensure no gap in coverage of these important safety rules, the interim final rule temporarily reinstates those two provisions while the agency gathers public comment on its actions and the underlying safety analysis before issuing a final rule.
The IFR was developed, FMCSA says, after new data showed that safety levels have been maintained since the 11-hour driving limit first was implemented in 2003.
“This proposal keeps in place hours-of-service limits that improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers are rested and ready to work,” FMCSA Administrator John H. Hill said. “The data makes clear that these rules continue to protect drivers, make our roads safer and keep our economy moving.”
After the IFR becomes effective Dec. 27, there will be a 60-day comment period, Hill said. Analysis after that could take “a few weeks or even a few months,” he said.
Once a final rule has been established, FMCSA will review longstanding concerns from drivers and carriers over the provision that restricts the sleeper berth split to eight-hour and two-hour periods, Hill said.
The agency also is working to finalize a proposed rule that would require drivers and trucking companies with serious or repeat hours-of-service violations to track their hours using electronic on-board recorders, Hill said.
FMCSA noted that in 2006 the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.94 – the lowest rate ever recorded. Similarly, since 2003, the percentage of large trucks involved in fatigue-related fatal crashes in the 11th hour of driving has remained below the average of the years 1991-2002. In 2005 alone, the agency noted, only one large truck was involved in a fatigue-related fatal crash in the 11th hour of driving, while in 2004 there were none.
In addition, between 2003, when the 11-hour driving limit and the 34-hour restart were adopted, and 2006, the percent of fatigue-related large truck crashes relative to all fatal large truck crashes has remained consistent. The agency’s estimates show that only 7 percent of large truck crashes are fatigue-related.
The American Trucking Associations applauded the IFR. The existing regulations “have led to a reduction in deaths and injuries over the last several years,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has objected to elements of the hours rule in the past, also indicated support for the FMCSA announcement.