FHWA plans to increase off-duty time for drivers

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 6 1999) — The U.S. Federal Highway Administration said on Friday it will propose new hours-of-service regulations for commercial drivers, changes that reportedly would extend mandatory off-duty time for drivers from eight to 14 hours and reduce the available on-duty time from 15 hours to 12.

The FHWA would not comment on the specifics; the proposed new limits were reported by the Associated Press and Transport Topics, the journal of the American Trucking Associations.

The ATA is opposing the FHWA plan. ATA President Walter McCormick sent U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater a letter dated Aug. 5 asking the government to publish the research upon which it based its proposed rule. FHWA spokeswoman Gail Shibley declined to comment further, saying only that the rule would be based on “sound science.”

In story published on Friday in USA Today, Jayne O’Donnell quotes FHWA spokesman Dave Longo as saying the plan is based largely on a government study of fatigue that examined how body clocks respond to sleep.

While the proposal would have to endure a lengthy regulatory approval process — including a public comment period — it’s difficult to imagine how dramatic an effect this would have on the industry should it come to pass. A trucking company’s prime assets — its trucks and drivers — would spend more time in a given day sitting idle than they would in productive service. Drivers would be faced with the challenge of finding some way to occupy their off-duty time.

Science seems to suggest that somewhere around eight hours of sleep per night is adequate for most people. This proposal will leave drivers with an additional six hours of idle time on their hands.

Even Daphne Izer of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) is surprised by the proposal. “All along, we’ve been hearing that the government seems to favor the 14-on and 10-off idea,” she said. “Truckers need more than eight hours off but 14 seems a little too long.” PATT has been advocating a 12-on and 12-off regimen.

No Canadian officials could be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

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