Hours of Service Cheered; Size and Weight Booed

Federal hours of service rules designed to improve highway safety by reducing driver fatigue went too far, according to opponents. First proposed in May 2000, the rules met with almost universal opposition by shippers and carriers. Congress blocked the rules from being enforced in 2001, and now the FMCSA has revised the rules, taking into account many of the industry comments.

The International Foodservice Distributors Assn. was among the groups praising the federal agency for its action. In its final rule, FMCSA dropped nearly all of the provisions shippers and carriers found most objectionable. It retained logbook requirements while not requiring electronic on-board computers to monitor driver activity. It also scaled back a controversial weekend provision that would have required extended off-duty periods each week.

"In designing the final rule, the Administration chose a more rational course that will cause little disruption to the current transportation system while enhancing safety on the nation's roads and highways," said David French, IFDA senior vice president of government relations.

Though widely praised, the new hours of services rules, which take effect in January 2004, were not universally supported. Owner operators said the new rules will have minimal impact on driver fatigue. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) declared June 2003 National Truck Safety Month to call attention to its concerns. These include the fact that drivers often wait "from between two hours to two days before they are allowed to load or unload a truck. Some [shippers] even require drivers to unload their truck and perform warehouse work such as restacking pallets," said OOIDA. "Not only is this work unpaid, but it steals the time that drivers have under the rules to do the work they are paid for: driving the truck."

Another safety issue drawing fire from shippers and motor carriers is recent legislation introduced in the House of Representatives that would change the regulatory control of the nation's roadways and freeze truck lengths and weights. Known as the "Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act," the bill is supported by the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks which says the legislation is needed to improve roadway safety. Studies show increasing truck weight reduces the number of trucks needed to haul the same amount of goods, reducing highway accidents, points out the National Industrial Transportation League. NITL was expected to oppose the bill and has urged shippers and carriers to do the same. For information on these and other regulatory positions of the groups mentioned, visit their Web sites:
National Industrial Transportation League www.nitl.org
International Foodservice Distributors Assn. www.fdi.org
Coalition Against Bigger Trucks www.cabt.org
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. www.ooida.com

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