Berth Order

I want the government to stay out of my truck. I’m 59, and I have never slept eight straight hours in my life.
– Lester Nicholson of Centreville, Ala., Crete Carrier

The new hours-of-service regulations will require all drivers using sleeper berths to take at least eight consecutive hours off duty as part of their 10 hours of daily rest.

The rule announced Aug. 19 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also grants a second work day in a week of up to 16 hours to short-haul drivers operating within 150 air miles of their base and returning home each night, provided the equipment does not require a commercial driver’s license. The rule that took effect in January 2004 allowed one workday of up to 16 hours for short-haul drivers, but no distinction was made based on the type of equipment.

The sleeper berth and short-haul provisions were the only two significant changes under the new regulations, which take effect Oct. 1. FMCSA announced a transition period through Dec. 31.

The new rule on sleeper use makes no distinction between solo and team drivers. The rule currently in place allows drivers to split a minimum of 10 hours’ rest in a sleeper berth in any combination of two periods no less than two hours.

The rule will produce net benefits of $270 million to the public and industry, principally due to the flexibility afforded to short-haul operations, FMCSA estimated.This latest revision of the hours rule results from a lawsuit by Citizens for Safe and Reliable Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Public Citizen. A federal appeals court judge ruled in July 2004 that FCMSA had to rewrite the rule because it had failed to consider driver health in devising it. In its revision, the agency focused on driver health, using extensive research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, says FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg.

The president of Public Citizen calls the new rule a disappointment.”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,” says Joan Claybrook. “We sincerely hope that in the coming weeks the agency will reconsider this issue and redraft the rule.”

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

Use of electronic onboard recorders, another issue raised by the appeals court, was not addressed in the new rule. Sandberg says she expects to announce separate rulemaking on that in early 2006.

The new rule means that couples and other teams who drive trucks with sleeper berths will have less flexibility in dividing their driving time, says Buster Anderson, vice president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies. Still, the new regulations “could have been a whole lot worse,” Anderson says.

“Team drivers rarely sleep eight consecutive hours,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “That will create a challenge.”
From staff reports

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