- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Commercial truck drivers would need to take longer breaks between their road trips under U.S. Department of Transportation safety rules announced yesterday.

Transportation Department officials say the new rules would reduce the driver fatigue that leads to collisions and injuries on highways.

“This new rule combines the best scientific research and real-world analysis to prevent driver fatigue,” said Annette Sandberg, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Trucking companies say the rules could cost them and consumers more money.

The rules that take effect Sunday allow long-haul operators to drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Under the old rules, they could drive no more than 10 hours after an eight-hour break.

They must reduce their maximum driving time per 24-hour period from 16 hours to 14 hours, and are prohibited from driving after 60 hours on duty in seven consecutive days or after 70 hours on duty in eight consecutive days.

Drivers may restart their “on-duty cycle” only after a “weekend” of 34 consecutive hours.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters said the extra hour of consistent driving is likely to increase safety hazards, regardless of whether drivers get an extra hour of rest during the day.

The new rules require work and rest schedules that coincide with human circadian rhythms, or daily biological cycles, Miss Sandberg said.

The FMCSA is the Transportation Department division that governs commercial vehicle safety.

The new “hours-of-service” rules are the first major rewrite of work rules for truck drivers in more than 60 years and are nearly certain to cause changes for the trucking industry, Miss Sandberg said.

“They know they need to change the way they do business,” Miss Sandberg said.

She said the payoff would come from greater highway safety.

An average of 410 persons are killed each year on the nation’s highways because of fatigued drivers of large trucks, she said. The new rules would reduce the deaths by about 75 and injuries by 1,326 per year, she estimated.

“The crashes alone amount to about $2.3 billion per year,” Miss Sandberg said.

Some trucking industry groups worry that their business will be hurt as their costs escalate from the longer breaks.

“It’s going to affect shippers and receivers more so than truck drivers because there is less driving time,” said Mike Russell, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations. “Shippers are going to have to become much more efficient at loading and unloading.”

However, he said, “It will save some lives.”

The rules might reduce insurance costs for the industry, the American Trucking Associations said.

Trucking companies say any added transportation costs are likely to be passed on to consumers.

“As transportation costs increase, consumers will feel the impact at the register,” said Tom Nightingale, spokesman for Schneider National, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies. “The impact will vary based on the commodity and the shipper. With over 80 percent of the country’s freight moving via full truckload, it is likely that consumers will see an impact.”

FMCSA officials said the rules will be effective only if state transportation departments provide adequate enforcement.

Drivers often falsify log books that record their hours on duty, FMCSA officials said. Verifying the information requires checking the places and times the drivers started their workdays and made deliveries.

Nevertheless, “We believe the rules have struck a very good balance” between safety and work needs of trucking companies, said Warren Hoeman, FMCSA deputy administrator.

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