Bush Administration's Redrafted Truck Rule Keeps Driving Hour Limits Intact
WASHINGTON, D.C. --- In response to an earlier appeals court ruling, the Bush administration redrafted a commercial truck safety rule this week in hopes the changes will answer legal concerns. However, the redrafted rule still includes the same driving provisions that have been at the center of controversy --- the daily driving maximum of 11 hours at a stretch and up to 88 hours in an eight-day period.
In July, a federal appeals court struck down the administration rule that loosened limits on the work hours of truck drivers. The three-judge panel's ruling concluded that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had failed to offer enough justification for a 2005 decision to increase the maximum driving hours of truck drivers. The hours were increased from 60 to 77 over seven consecutive days, and from 70 to 88 hours over eight days.
In its new rewrite of the rule, the FMCSA added data on driver fatigue and accidents, along with other procedural information, but left intact key provisions on allowable driving time, Reuters reported. In a conference call, FMCSA Administrator John Hill said the agency was prepared to go to court to defend the rule.
The rewrite will not be finalized until the agency completes a 60-day comment and analysis period.
Companies affected by the rule include FedEx Corp., UPS Inc. and YRC Worldwide.
Consumer, labor and safety groups have successfully sued the Transportation Department's FMCSA twice since it adopted a new trucker rule in 2003. A 2004 appeals court ruled the government failed on procedural grounds and didn't demonstrate the role of fatigue and how the rule would affect driver health.
This week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a statement criticizing FMCSA's latest actions.
Institute President Adrian Lund said the agency "still believes the way to address the problem of fatigued drivers behind the wheels of big truck rigs is to allow them to drive even more hours than past rules allowed. This is contrary to what the appeals court told the agency, not once but twice, and it's contrary to what's rational."
The FMCSA released a statement of its own: "This proposal keeps in place hours-of-service limits that improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers are rested and ready to work," Hill said. "The data makes clear that these rules continue to protect drivers, make our roads safer and keep our economy moving."
The agency also said that in 2006, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.94 --- the lowest rate ever recorded. Also, the agency said, since 2003 the percentage of large trucks involved in fatigue-related fatal crashes in the 11th hour of driving has remained below the average of the years 1991-2002.
Critics, however, have disputed the accuracy of these statistics.