Fourth Time’s a Charm? Special interests fight truck hours – again

WASHINGTON — Hoping to have better luck with an administration that’s perhaps more friendly to their interests, a familiar coalition of lobby groups is taking yet another swipe at the American hours-of-service rules.

The Teamsters, Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition are once again attacking the five-year-old HOS rules in court.

The groups asked an appeals court to review what they call "a dangerous Bush-era regulation that increased the amount of time truck drivers can spend behind the wheel."

The rules, passed by the Bush Administration in 2003, have been in the works by the Federal Motor carrier Administration since the latter half of the 1990’s when President Bill Clinton was in the White House.

They allow drivers to drive 11 hours, one more than previously permitted, but require them to take more time off in a day, including eight consecutive hours off. Plus, the rules shut drivers down at 60 hours in a week and provide a 34-hour period to recover from cumulative fatigue.

The coalition also sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking him to begin work on a new regulation. "We have taken this action with the conviction, based on research and scientific data, that longer driving and working hours are unsafe and promote driver fatigue," the letter said.

However, most of the available scientific research indicates the opposite is more likely true — that the current rules better match circadian rhythms and, as the American Trucking Associations’ says, "the real world work environment truckers face every day."

Interest groups cite evidence showing HOS is dangerous,
but much of the available science says different.

Not surprisingly, the coalition didn’t cite  government statistics on highway crash and fatality rates involving trucks, which have been steadily falling in relation to increased traffic numbers since the rules took effect.

The rules, which took effect in 2003, have been challenged several times by safety groups already. The regulations were modified somewhat following the first challenge, but the revised rule was challenged again in 2005

In July 2007, the court remanded the HOS to FMCSA, ruling that the agency must provide better explanations of its justifications for adopting the controversial 11-hour drive time and 34-hour restart provisions. Many in the trucking industry interpreted that decision as "procedural," something the agency could fix fairly easily.

It did and in December 2007, FMCSA announced that it was keeping the 11-hour and the 34-hour provisions. In January 2008, a federal appeals court denied Public Citizen’s subsequent request to invalidate that interim rule and a final rule was published late last year and went into effect in the final days of the Bush administration.


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