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VOL. 128 | NO. 27 | Friday, February 08, 2013

Trucking Braces for Hours of Service Changes

By MICHAEL WADDELL

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New changes to the hours of service (HOS) rules from the U.S. Department of Transportation will impact truckers and trucking companies beginning July 1 unless a pending lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia blocks the new rules before then.

The new rule changes will limit 34-hour restarts to once per week and will reduce a driver’s average maximum allowable hours of work per week from 82 hours to 70 hours – a 15 percent reduction.

“Theoretically, the ultimate goal is to reduce fatigue-related crashes (and thereby improve safety) and also to improve driver health,” said Mason Wilson, president of the Traffic Club of Memphis. “Whether this rule will actually achieve those goals is hotly debated and the American Trucking Association and others have taken the position that the rule is arbitrary and will, at best, only minimally improve safety while negatively impacting motor carriers.”

In late December 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) published a new final rule for hours of service. The rule is being implemented in two phases. The first wave took effect in February 2012, and the new set of guidelines will be implemented on July 1.

“The American Trucking Association and others have taken the position that the rule is arbitrary and will, at best, only minimally improve safety while negatively impacting motor carriers.”

–Mason Wilson, President, Traffic Club of Memphis

At dispute are new restrictions relating to the 34-hour restart provision, which has had no restrictions since it went into effect roughly eight years ago. The new restart period must include two periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. home terminal time and may only be used only once per week.

“According to the FMCSA, the industry conditions that precipitated the new HOS rule were chronic driver fatigue, a high risk of crashes for fatigued drivers and chronic health conditions in drivers,” Wilson said. “The stated purpose of the rule is to limit drivers to no more than 70 hours of work per week on average, i.e., to give drivers more time to rest.”

Oral arguments against the changes from trucking stakeholders, led by the American Trucking Association, and safety advocacy groups will be heard on March 15 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“Truckers have been operating under the 34-hour restart provision for close to 10 years and it’s serving their companies pretty well, so they are concerned about further restrictions. It will all be decided in this ongoing court case,” said Dave Huneryager, president of the Tennessee Trucking Association.

The groups are also opposed to a new rest break guideline taking effect in July in which drivers may drive only if eight hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes.

Safety advocates would like to see the 34-hour restart eliminated and the daily driving limit reduced from the current 11 hours.

“The American Trucking Association has also asked to push back the start date to allow time for the court process to play out and to give motor carriers additional time to implement any changes ordered by the court and to train their personnel if the rule is not blocked,” Wilson said.

Smaller, local companies might not feel the pinch as much as larger outfits.

“As far as a dollars and cents or operational impact on Jamac Logistics, we believe from what we understand that it will be minimal since we are a local intermodal carrier, our drivers are pretty much home every night and for the most part currently a Monday through Friday operation,” said Ken Opperman, Jamac Logistics terminal manager. “What we will have to monitor closely is that any drivers that do operate on Saturday morning are allowed their full rest and that they not begin until after 6 a.m. on Monday morning.”

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