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ATA assails Obama Administration proposal for revising HOS regulations

In a self-described effort to get the hours-of-service rules “right” for professional truck drivers, the Obama Administration missed the mark in many ways with its December 23, 2010 proposal, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The administration’s proposal is “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking’s productivity,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer.

The proposal has three main elements. It would: (1) likely reduce the maximum daily driving time to 10 hours; (2) reduce the maximum daily working time window by an additional hour; and, (3) counter to the government’s news release, abolish the 34-hour restart as it now exists.

The trucking industry’s safety performance while operating under the HOS rules in place since 2004 “has been remarkable” said Graves. Crash-related fatalities are down 33% from the 2003 level; both fatality and injury crash rates are at their lowest level since the USDOT began keeping records.

“When viewed against trucking’s sterling safety record,” said Graves, “it’s plain that the Obama Administration’s willingness to break something that’s not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health.”

Hard-pressed to argue safety benefits of further restricting truck driver productivity, the Obama Administration is trying to justify its proposed changes as needed to improve driver health, according to the ATA. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has consistently gone on record over the past five years with supporting information and data stating the current rules are having no negative effect on driver health.

The administration’s disregard for the negative safety impacts the proposed changes would have—impacts expressly recognized by FMCSA in the past, according to ATA. For example, FMCSA previously found that the 11th hour of driving time does not increase driver weekly hours; is used for flexibility purposes; does not increase driver-fatigue risks; and that eliminating it would promote more aggressive driving (to meet time constraints) and lead to placing tens of thousands of less experienced drivers on the road who would pose greater crash risks. With respect to the 34-hour restart, FMCSA has found in the past that requiring two nights of sleep would disrupt drivers’ circadian cycle and add to more daytime driving in congested periods, again increasing crashes. FMCSA’s reversal on these crucial matters is hard to explain in other than political terms.

The changes proposed “will be enormously expensive for trucking and the economy” said Graves. FMCSA estimated, just two years ago, costs of more than $2.2 billion if the daily drive time was reduced by one hour and the restart provision was significantly changed. In fact, just two years ago, FMCSA concluded that “eliminating the 11th hour is unlikely to be cost effective under any reasonable set of circumstances.” “This proposal includes even more restrictions than what FMCSA previously considered” said Graves, and “as a result, we will be evaluating FMCSA’s proposed costs and benefits very carefully.”

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