Third time a charm?

The Department of Transportation has completed work on a final driver hours-of-service regulation and sent it to the White House for a final review.

Along with related regulations concerning electronic onboard recorders, the hours rules are the most significant regulations on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s plate as the Bush administration tries to wrap up key rulemakings before it ends in January.

Details regarding the new rules will not be disclosed until the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) completes its review and the rules are published in the Federal Register.

The regulations now pending at OMB represent FMCSA’s third attempt at a rewrite of the regime that had stood for more than six decades. Following a lawsuit by Public Citizen and others, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia invalidated the first attempt in July 2004 on the grounds the agency had failed to consider the effects of the rules on driver health as required by Congress.

In August 2005, FMCSA issued new rules that sharply limited the use of sleeper berths for split rest, but it left other key elements in place, including the 11 hours of driving and the 34-hour restart. Public Citizen and its allies sued again, and the appeals court struck down the rules a second time in July 2007, citing FMCSA’s failure to provide adequate notice of its methodology for analyzing crash risk.

Last December, FMCSA issued an interim final rule holding the current regulations in place and requesting comments and data to help in its reconsideration of the regulations. Because the appeals court invalidated the current hours rules on procedural grounds, it has yet to consider the merits of Public Citizen’s challenge. Another lawsuit following the third final rule is virtually inevitable.

Four other FMCSA rulemakings – final rules regarding intermodal equipment, new entrant fitness and medical certification; and a proposed rule to establish a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners – are under final review by OMB.
– Avery Vise

ATA Adopts Comprehensive Safety Agenda
The American Trucking Associations’ board of directors on Oct. 7 adopted 18 recommendations aimed at reducing highway-related fatalities and injuries through improved safety performance of drivers, vehicles and motor carriers. The recommendations were among 23 items identified for consideration by ATA’s Safety Task Force, which the group established earlier this year.

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“Today the trucking industry raised its campaign for safety to a new level,” said ATA President Bill Graves.

On several occasions during ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans, Graves referred to the pending package of safety policy recommendations as one of three critical steps – a “three-legged stool,” as he calls it – the trucking industry needed to take in order to show it is deserving of greater consideration in upcoming federal legislation, especially the reauthorization of the highway program. The other two elements are establishing the essentiality of trucking – through programs like “Good Stuff: Trucks Bring It,” for example – and environmental responsibility through the sustainability initiative ATA launched recently.

A majority of the 18 recommendations address the performance of drivers – both commercial and noncommercial – and include support for:

  • A policy on the use of nonintegrated technologies while the vehicle is in motion, i.e., technologies that could distract drivers;
  • Uniform commercial driver’s license (CDL) testing standards;
  • A study of CDL graduated licensing;
  • Additional parking facilities for trucks;
  • A national maximum 65 mph speed limit;
  • Strategies to increase the use of seatbelts;
  • A national car-truck driver behavior improvement program;
  • Increased use of red-light cameras and automated speed enforcement;
  • Graduated licensing in all states for noncommercial teen drivers; and
  • More stringent laws to reduce drinking and driving.

The remaining policies address vehicles and motor carriers and include support for:

  • Targeted electronic speed governing of certain noncommercial vehicles;
  • Electronic speed governing of all large trucks built since 1992;
  • New large-truck crashworthiness
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