History is not on your side

by Lou Smyrlis

Recent comments from Anne Ferro, head of the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), that she will continue to push for a reduction in daily driving time should come as no surprise.

The FMCSA may have left the daily driving time at 11 hours when it announced its new hours-of-service rules, choosing instead to reduce the maximum number of work hours allowed per week, but it would be naive to think that the battle over daily driving time is over. That eleventh hour has been fought over since it was initially brought in back in 2003. Back then the new rule was immediately taken to court by the Teamsters union and safety advocates who lambasted the FMCSA for playing with driver health. It has actually been rejected twice by a federal appeals court since then yet remains in effect.

Motor carrier executives on the other hand have been very vocal in their support for 11 hours of daily driving time, pointing out that dedicated fleet operations in particular stand to face considerable losses in productivity should driving time be reduced. Dedicated trucking operations tend to have tightly engineered runs and could stand to lose up to 12% of their productivity, according to the American Trucking Associations’ hours-of-service subcommittee.

Trucking officials are quick to point out that the considerable improvement in truck safety statistics over the past decade should be accepted as evidence that current hours of service rules work fine and should not be tampered with. But that’s not how the FMCSA views the situation. According to the FMCSA, research shows that crash risk increases with longer daily and weekly work hours as does the likelihood of chronic health problems. So the FMCSA feels justified in reducing the total number of hours a truck driver should be expected to work per week by 12, down to an average of about 70.

But it didn’t make sense, according to the FMCSA, to also reduce the number of hours a driver is allowed to drive in a day because the research did not show a “significant distinction” between the risk associated with working 11 hours versus 10 hours or nine hours.

That, however, doesn’t mean the FMCSA will stop looking. As Ferro readily acknowledges, the FMCSA has a “clear preference” for a 10-hour daily driving limit. It just does not yet have the science to prove it. But as she recently told the media, the FMCSA plans to collect and examine driver log data on an hour-by-hour basis to measure their relationship to crash information.

Since the number of hours a truck driver should be allowed on the road first caught the attention of legislators back in 1936, the number has varied from a high of 15 to a low of 10. But the 10-hour daily driving limit prevailed for 64 years before being raised to 11 in 2003.

So chances are safety advocates and those within the FMCSA who agree with them will not be giving up without a fight. And history is not on the industry’s side.

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