Revised Hours-of-Service Rule Should Reduce Driver Fatigue for Truckers

The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) yesterday announced the first substantial change to the hours-of-service rules (HOS) since 1939. The rule is expected to improve highway safety and help reduce the number of truck crashes and related fatalities and injuries by addressing commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver fatigue.

Simultaneously, the agency plans to expand its research initiative on electronic onboard recorders (EOBR) and other technologies, including evaluating alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for their use to ensure HOS recordkeeping and compliance. While FMCSA concluded that the safety and economic data needed to justify an EOBR requirement in the HOS final rule are not available at this time, there are several technologies that offer significant promise that FMCSA plans to investigate.

"Over the last several years, FMCSA has made great progress in reducing commercial vehicle crash fatalities, and this rule should help to continue that momentum," said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. "If we can lower the cost of moving freight by 1 percent, the additional benefit to the economy would be more than $98 billion annually."

The new rules allow Long-haul drivers to drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Also, drivers may not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on-duty, following 10 hours off-duty. Similar to existing rules, drivers may not drive after being on-duty for 60 hours in a seven-consecutive-day period or 70 hours in an eight-consecutive-day period. This on-duty cycle may be restarted whenever a driver takes at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.

Short-haul truck drivers those drivers who routinely return to their place of dispatch after each duty tour and then are released from duty may have an increased on-duty period of 16 hours once during any seven-consecutive-day period. The 16-hour exception takes into consideration legitimate business needs without jeopardizing safety. FMCSA estimates that without the extra two on-duty hours, the industry would be required to hire at least 48,000 new drivers, actually reducing crash-reduction benefits.

The current rule allows 10 hours of driving within a 15-hour on-duty period after eight hours of off-duty time. Also, drivers may not drive after their 15th hour on duty in a workday or after 60 hours on-duty in seven consecutive days or 70 hours on-duty in eight consecutive days.

The FMCSA estimates the new rule will save up to 75 lives and prevent as many as 1,326 fatigue-related crashes annually. There were an estimated 4,902 truck-related fatalities in traffic crashes in 2002.

Acting FMCSA Administrator Annette M. Sandberg stated, "The hours-of-service final rule represents a significant improvement in addressing driver fatigue over the current rule that has been in existence more than 60 years. It is a rule that not only is based on science, but makes practical sense from both a lifesaving and operations perspective, ensuring greater safety without additional enforcement complexity."

This rule governs drivers transporting freight in interstate commerce in a property-carrying commercial vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, and operating vehicles transporting hazardous materials in quantities requiring vehicle placards. Carriers will operate under current hours-of-service regulations through Jan. 3, 2004. Drivers of buses (passenger-carrying CMVs) involved in interstate transportation will continue to use the current hours-of-service regulations.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Ellen Engleman called the revised hours-of-service rules are "an important step toward addressing fatigue on our nation's highways."

In a 1995 safety study on truck driver fatigue, the board concluded the most critical factors in predicting fatigue-related accidents are the duration of the most recent sleep period, the amount of sleep in the past 24 hours and whether the sleep was split into shorter periods of time rather than one long period of time. As a result of the study's findings, the board asked the FMCSA to revise the hours-of-service regulations to give drivers the opportunity to obtain at least eight continuous hours of sleep. The Safety Board also recommended elimination of the sleeper berth exemption that allows drivers to split their eight-hour minimum daily rest between two separate periods.

FMCSA and its state enforcement partners will begin enforcing the final rule beginning Jan. 4, 2004. The implementation plan provides the FMCSA and states needed time to modify computer systems to reflect the regulatory changes, train more than 8,000 state and federal personnel, and provide education and outreach to the industry. In addition, the implementation plan allows carriers and drivers time to become familiar with the new regulation and make any procedural changes necessary for compliance.

Rules for the record-of-duty status form, also known as a driver's daily log, remain unchanged for truck and bus drivers. Those truck and bus drivers operating within a 100 air-mile radius of the driver's normal work location, who return to that location and are released from duty within 12 hours, will keep time cards as allowed under the current rules.

The final rule can be viewed at www.fmcsa.dot.gov.

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