Industry Reacts to Hours of Service Rules

Motor carriers saw little to react to in the newly released hours of service (HOS) rules, but the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) and other industry sources have urged caution that groups like Public Citizen and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters could mount another court challenge.

In announcing the new HOS rules, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration set a short deadline for implementation. Motor carriers and private fleets were given barely six weeks to digest the new rules, train drivers, and begin applying them. Meanwhile, the Teamsters and Public Citizen could be signaling their intent to challenge the new rules

Calling the new rules “a repackaged version of the old rule,” the Teamsters said it was a major setback for highway safety. The union further claimed the new rules could “increase the potential for deadly accidents by forcing drivers to log even more hours on the road.” The union argument hinges on what FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg referred to as the short-haul provision. That rule change allows a class of drivers to add two hours to their duty cycle twice during a week, increasing their duty time to 16 hours on those days. It does not increase the limit on driving time, which remains at 11 hours.

Public Citizen, one of the leading opponents of the 2003 version of the rules, called the new rules a disappointment and cited figures showing fatalities stemming from large truck crashes rose 3.1% from 2003 to 2004. Responding to questions on the accident rate, FMSCA’s Sandberg pointed out only 5.5% of truck-related fatalities were fatigue related. And, she continued, it is fatigue-related fatalities that the rules are designed to address.

Significant to the fatigue issue is the change in the sleeper berth provision. The old rules allowed the driver to split the 10-hour break into two segments with the shorter segment no less than two hours. The effect of the old rule was that it could extend the 14-hour duty cycle. The new rule does not permit that, says Don Osterberg, vice president of safety and driver training for Schneider National and a member of the American Trucking Associations’ HOS subcommittee.

For many fleets whose drivers split sleeper berth time into five-hour segments or six and four hours, the impact on efficiency could be significant. Schneider, as a matter of policy, established an eight-and-two split for solo drivers, Osterberg points out, making its training and transition challenge fairly smooth. But, from an industry perspective and in the area of team drivers, the short period to implementation will be a cost and an issue, says Osterberg.

Sandberg announced a transitional period in enforcement that will extend from the effective date of the rules (Oct. 1) until December 31, 2005, but as Osterberg points out, that won’t mitigate liability in the event of a serious accident or fatality.

The rules that were promulgated in 2003 became effective in January of 2004 and were struck down by a court ruling in July 2004. Those rules were allowed to remain in effect while the FMCSA redrafted them to meet a September 2005 deadline.

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