In a effort to reduce the number of accidents caused by exhaustion, a new proposal by the Department of Transportation (DOT) would require truck drivers to rest longer between shifts.
But the new rules would also allow work shifts to last longer than permitted, establishing periods of 12-hour shifts with 12 hours off in between.
Current rules, adopted more than 60 years ago, limit truckers to 10-hour shifts with at least eight hours off in between. Safety advocates quickly expressed concern that longer work periods would increase the danger of drowsy drivers.
The goal is to reduce driver fatigue by making sure they have enough time to sleep and to get drivers onto a 24-hour cycle.
With the current rules, some drivers work rotating shifts, reaching their weekly 60-hour driving limit in four or five days.
The American Trucking Association is concerned about DOT''s proposal saying that it would result in a need for more trucks and drivers on the highways.
Last fall, the American Trucking Association announced its own proposal to increase rest time for drivers: 14 hours on-duty in 24 hours, requiring at least 10 hours off between shifts.
Jackie Gillan of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said, "Increasing the maximum work hours allowed will only make ... drivers even more exhausted and will result in an increased risk of fatigue-related crashes."
Once the new rules are proposed they will be open to public comment and hearings will be held.
There were 5,302 people killed in truck-related accidents in 1998, a slight drop from 1997 and part of a trend in which the truck-related highway fatality rate has been falling, despite increased trucking mileage.
by Virginia Sutcliffe