New truck driver rules won’t be ready in 2000, U.S. agency says

WASHINGTON, DC (June 27, 2000) — New rules that would cut the number of hours truck drivers can spend on the road won’t be issued this year, as planned, because the U.S. Transportation Department has been swamped by as many as 1000 comments a day on the plan, a truck safety official said.

Clyde Hart, who heads the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told the House Ground Transportation Subcommittee it was “highly unlikely” the DOT would meet its planned Dec. 31 completion date for the driving rule plan issues. Hart also pledged “significant changes in the rules” in response to criticism from Congress, truckers, utilities and unions.

The new rules would cover some 3.2 million truck drivers at about 400,000 companies, as well as utility, construction and oil field workers who drive trucks, although not as their primary job. Long-distance drivers would be limited to 12 hours at the wheel out of every 24, with two nights of rest every five days. Truckers now work as many as 16 hours out of 24 with one rest day per week.

The rules “will immediately reduce the amount of freight that can move to market,” said Gerald Detter, president of Con-Way Transportation Services, the trucking unit of Palo Alto, Calif.-based CNF Inc. Detter said the plan would cost his company — whose revenue last year was $1.88 billion — $95 million annually to pay for more drivers and new facilities.

Hart said DOT would review earlier assessments on the cost of the regulations “to craft a rule that doesn’t have a significant impact on the economy.’ DOT estimated the total cost of hiring almost 50,000 new drivers would be $360 million. Trucking groups counter that 100,000 new drivers would be needed.

The proposed rules are aimed to reduce the deaths and injuries due to fatigued commercial drivers in the U.S. by 50%: In 1999 there were 755 fatalities and 20,000 injuries due to driver fatigue. In addition to reducing the hours truckers could drive in a day, long-haul and regional drivers would be required to use on-board recording devices replacing paper logbooks used currently. Hart believes the net value of the new rules to the U.S. economy would be $3.4 billion over 10 years.

Hart addressed protests from Representative Charles Bass, a New Hampshire Republican, and Representative Howard Coble, a North Carolina Republican, who feared new limits on utility workers that restore power and other vital services during emergencies. Hart said DOT’s plan included the flexibility to suspend the driving rules for 30 days after a government-declared emergency ends.

Another possible area of revision is the preservation of exemptions from driving rules for farmers, construction and oil field workers. Representative Thomas Petri, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the subcommittee, urged DOT not to move forward with the present plan that would end exemptions created by congressional action.

“We’re more than willing to look at those sort of exemptions,’ Hart said.

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