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FMCSA may be relying on 34-hour restart, 30-minute breaks to offset 11th-hour risk

The FMCSA said less than 10 percent of those who commented on the public docket on the safety of the 11th driving hour supported reducing the permissible driving time from 11 to 10 hours.

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

12/30/2011

WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration appears to be counting on the new 34-restart restriction and the required 30-minute break to offset any risk involved in maintaining the 11-hour daily driving limit.

In releasing the new rule, the agency said after carefully examining numerous studies on the relationship between work hours and health and safety both in trucking and other industries, and after reviewing the comments submitted to the by trucking industry stakeholders, that it had no choice but to keep the 11-hour rule intact.

Safety advocacy groups and the Teamsters spearheaded the effort to reduce daily driving time to 10 hours.

The shorter driving day also had the support of the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

The FMCSA said less than 10 percent of those who commented on the public docket on the safety of the 11th driving hour supported reducing the permissible driving time from 11 to 10 hours.

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Based on information released in the final rule, 4,633 commenters spoke specifically about driving time.

The agency said in the final rule that an April 2011 study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that the risk of safety-critical events (SCEs), such as driver error and lane tracking deviations, rises with the hours since coming on duty.

“Although the study found some increase in risk in the 11th hour, the effect is not significant,” the agency said in the final rule. “A stronger effect is related to hours worked each day and week. Given the high cost of eliminating the 11th hour and the ambiguous data, FMCSA has decided that it does not have an adequate basis to change the driving limit.”

But, the agency said, the new final rule substantially reduces the maximum weekly work time and ensures that drivers cannot work the maximum number of hours every week while being given the flexibility to do so occasionally.

“Some of the safety benefits [of the new rule] and most of the health benefits derive from limiting long work hours,” the FMCSA said.

The agency said many commenters, including ATA and other trucking associations, indicated that the 11th hour is used primarily for flexibility to account for unforeseen events.

It noted several large carriers submitted information on the frequency with which their drivers use the 11th  hour.

“The percentages reported were 6 percent, 7 percent, 9 percent, 9.5 percent, 11 percent, and 15.26 percent,” the final rule stated. “A private carrier stated that one division uses the 11th hour 85 percent of the time, while the rest use it 10 percent of the time. Another private carrier stated that its drivers rarely reach the 11th hour.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) reported that two-thirds of the respondents to its online survey said they use it one to four times a week. Individual drivers and smaller carriers reported higher use of the 11th hour, although again it was not always possible to determine whether they were reporting the percentage of daily periods with a full 11 hours of driving or the percentage of drivers who used the 11th hour at some point over the period examined.”

Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, made a strong pitch for a shorter driving day during Congressional testimony Nov. 30.

“The reformed HOS rule will have a positive impact on safety and the economy,” Jasny said in referring to the FMCSA’s stated preference for a 10-hour driving limit when it released the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on HOS on Dec. 23, 2010. “The current HOS rule has been struck down two times by the Court of Appeals and truck driver fatigue remains a serious problem that is killing and injuring too many motorists and truck drivers.

“It is time that Congress and the Executive Branch provide the same, high level of safety that the American public and the airline industry have come to expect, and indeed realize, in the aviation industry. During this past Thanksgiving week there were no commercial airplane crashes, yet nearly an estimated 100 people died, and over 1,400 more were injured in truck crashes. Chronic worker fatigue, falling asleep on the job and threats to health and safety would never be tolerated in any other sector of the transportation industry and neither should it be tolerated in the trucking industry where thousands are killed annually.”

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

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