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For trucking industry, new HOS rule appears to be much ado about not much

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood speaks to reporters during a news conference Dec. 21, 2011, announcing a sweeping final rule that overhauls commercial passenger airline pilots. The next day, the DOT released the long awaited and controversial new final rule on Hours of Service for truckers in a news release. (Associated Press: MANUAL BALCE CENETA)

The Trucker Staff



WASHINGTON — The final rule on Hours of Service for truck drivers has been out now for seven days and it’s been problematic to find trucking industry stakeholders to opine about the new regulation for a couple of reasons.

They are:

• Not at work during this holiday period, (the federal government has long been noted for releasing information about major — often controversial — issues  late in the day on a Friday or just before a holiday making it difficult to get reaction from impacted parties, which frustrates us in the media), or

• Trying to develop their own case studies about how the rule will impact their specific operations.

After bouncing our thoughts off the noggins of a few trusted sources, here’s our take.

We are disappointed that no DOT or Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials have been available to answer questions about the new rule: Among other things was it a struggle to come off the agency’s own preference and political pressure for a 10-hour driving limit, and why is the implementation date for portions of the rule almost 18 months away?

After all, one day before the final rule for HOS for truckers was announced, the DOT held a news conference to announce the new HOS rules for pilots and reporters were allowed to ask questions.

The final rule on trucking HOS was announced in a news release and we are told FMCSA officials won’t be available for comment until next week.

Best we can tell (and thankfully) there have been no commercial airline fatalities since Feb. 12, 2009, when 50 people died in Buffalo, N.Y.

During the same time frame, although 2011 figures won’t be available for quite some time, around 10,000 truckers, passenger car occupants and pedestrians will have died in truck-related crashes.

That’s an average of one fatal major crash of a commercial airliner every other week, so we can’t figure out why the announcement of both rules was not treated in the same manner.

The Associated Press devoted 993 words to the news conference on pilot safety.

The AP’s outstanding Washington-based transportation reporter Joan Lowy, whose articles are often posted on our website, was off the day the trucking HOS rule was announced.

The length of AP’s coverage on the trucking HOS: zero.

At any rate, for the trucking industry, it appears the final rule turned out to be much ado about not much.

The industry breathed a collective sigh of relief when the FMCSA said science, research and available data just did not justify dropping the daily driving limit to 10 hours and left the 11-hour rule intact.

With minor changes, the agency kept the restrictions on the 34-hour restart rule first revealed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in December 2010, restrictions that limit the use of the restart to once every 168 hours (seven days). Formerly, the rule could be used multiple times each week.

When the final rule was issued, the American Trucking Associations immediately expressed its frustration and disappointment that the Obama administration issued an unjustified final rule “that will do nothing to improve highway safety, but will very likely increase the risk of truck-involved crashes.”





The ATA is most likely correct because those to whom we’ve talked on background believe that limiting the 34-hour restart to once a week will take trucks off the road on the weekend and put them on the road during the week, thus increasing traffic, congestion and the fight for parking places for the now required 30-minute break.

Speaking of the break, until electronic on-board recorders are placed in every truck, truckers can easily driving 11.5 hours during a 14-hour on duty period and simply record the “break” when they stop and the logbook will look legal.

The only risk is being stopped on the highway for a roadside inspection when it’s too late to record the “break.”

Although safety advocates and the Teamsters have yet to comment extensively, those groups had their hearts set on a 10-hour limit, and nothing short of that is going to make them happy.

So, look for lawsuit No. 4 from the safety advocates (we don’t suspect any trucking industry stakeholders will litigate because the outcome of a lawsuit might be worse than the new rule).

Meanwhile, the FMCSA appears to have left no stone unturned in using current science, research and data to formulate the new final rule, and it provided plenty of printed information to back up its data, so it will be very difficult to overturn, we believe.

It was the same with the 2008 rule, which too was based on the science, research and data available then, and which likely would have stood a test in court.

We suspect the Obama administration simply felt in the light of three lawsuits it was prudent to just start over and “review and reconsider” the current rule.

Thankfully for the trucking industry, the agency did a lot of “reviewing and reconsidering,” but it didn’t do much rewriting.

Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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