Illegal Rule Makes Roads Dangerous, Safety Advocates Say

The Teamsters Union, Public Citizen and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety filed a brief arguing that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) interim final rule regarding hours of service for truck drivers was “illegal” and creates dangerous driving conditions.

"People are dying on the highway because FMCSA is more concerned about making its corporate bosses happy than it is about making our highways safe," said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa.

The final interim rule, reinstated Dec. 11, allows truck drivers to drive 11 hours within a 14-hour time period and as many as 84 hours per week. FMCSA first issued this hours-of-service rule in 2003, increasing the time truck drivers could drive by one hour. The rule has a history of being twice struck down by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit but later reinstated.

The Teamsters Union and other safety advocates describe FMCSA’s actions as “lawless” while ignoring court rulings that threw out the final interim rule. The groups also argue that the rule focuses on the trucking industry’s economic needs instead of the health and safety implications for truck drivers.

"The Bush administration could have objectively reviewed the scientific literature," Hoffa said. "It could have conducted studies to answer any open questions. It could have talked to truck drivers and safety advocates and other highway users. But it did none of those things.”

FMCSA: An Immediate Rule was Necessary

FMCSA asserts that reinstating the rule was necessary to maintain consistent safety regulations within the industry. In a reply brief, FMCSA stated: “Indeed, the alternative suggested by petitioners would require the agency to create an entirely new rule, in all likelihood only to change that rule again once a new rulemaking is complete. That would not only cause severe disruption within an important industry, but would severely hamper the enforcement of any hours of service rules.”

The reply brief later added that issuing “an immediate rule was necessary to avoid widespread confusion and to ensure continued enforcement of [hours-of-service] requirements.”

Furthermore, FMCSA argued that issuing the interim final rule does not violate court orders. “At no point did this Court limit the FMCSA’s ability to maintain a uniform safety rule pending further proceedings, let alone require the agency to adopt the specific rewrite that petitioners demand,” the reply brief stated.

FMCSA also stated that changing the rule to reduce the daily driving limit to 10 hours would impose “significant transition costs for the industry.”

Conflicting Highway Safety Reports

The Teamsters Union says the hours-of-service rule could lead to “dangerous fatigue” and cites a 20 percent hike in fatal crashes caused by fatigue from 2004-2005. The brief stated: “Because 2004 was the first year in which the new, longer hours of driving and work were put into effect, the negative impact is obvious.”

Last month, however, FMCSA stated the 11-hour rule will continue to “improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers are rested and ready to work.” FMCSA listed evidence showing that since 2003, highway safety has increased.

In December, FMCSA Administrator John H. Hill also stated the organization was working to finalize a rule requiring drivers or trucking companies with serious or repeat violations to use electronic tracking recorders to increase highway safety.

A December 2006 Occupationalhazards.com article also addressed safety groups' concerns about this hours-of-service rule.

For more information, see Interim Rule Retains Driving Limit for Truck Drivers.

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