Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced new rules on December 22 that will revise the hours of service (HOS) safety requirements for commercial truckers. The new rule is being praised by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) as a “culmination of the most extensive and transparent public outreach effort in our agency’s history.” Some safety advocates, however, are questioning whether the new rules go far enough to prevent tractor-trailer crashes due to driver fatigue.
The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new hours of service rule reduces the total weekly hours commercial truckers can drive from the current 82 hours to 70 hours. Truck drivers will also be required to rest for 30 minutes after driving for eight consecutive hours as part of the “34-hour restart” provision. The “34-hour restart” provision allows drivers to restart the number of weekly hours they are allotted behind the wheel after taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. Commercial truckers are only permitted to use the restart provision once in a seven-day period. The new HOS rule represents the first change to the regulation governing truck driver fatigue since 2003.
Companies with drivers that are in violation of the 11-hour-per-day driving limit by 3 or more hours could be subject to a fine of $11,000 per offense. The drivers themselves can face civil penalties of $2,750 for each offense. “Trucking is a difficult job, and a big rig can be deadly when a driver is tired and overworked,” said Secretary LaHood. “This final rule will help prevent fatigue-related truck crashes and save lives.”
Many safety advocates are questioning whether the new rules go far enough to ensure safety on the nation’s roads. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that nearly 500 people die annually in truck crashes where driver fatigue is a causal factor. Other studies put the annual deaths even higher than 500. Under the current HOS rule, 65 percent of truckers say they have driven while fatigued. Another 48 percent of truck drivers have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters all opposed the current 11 hours of service rule and sued to change it.
Trucking companies and the drivers they hire will need to be in compliance with the new rules by July 1, 2013.