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Safety groups file suit against HOS; say it doesn't 'protect public from tired truckers'

The new rule failed to reduce the 11-hour limit on consecutive driving hours to 10 hours, despite the agency’s statement in the proposed rule that “the 10-hour rule is currently FMCSA’s currently preferred option” because it would be most effective in reducing driver fatigue, the safety groups said.

The Trucker News Services

2/24/2012

WASHINGTON — The federal rule for truck driver Hours of Service still fails to make needed improvements to protect the public from tired truckers and should be subjected to judicial review, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen, the Truck Safety Coalition and two truck drivers who today filed a lawsuit challenging the new rule.

“Given the FMCSA’s mission to prevent truck-related deaths and injuries, it is appalling that the agency issued yet another rule that fails to adequately address truck driver fatigue and puts the public’s safety at risk, ” Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said.

In the lawsuit, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the parties seek judicial review of the final HOS rule issued on Dec. 16, 2011, by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The agency's final rule failed to reduce the 11-hour limit on consecutive driving hours to 10 hours, despite the agency’s statement in the proposed rule that “the 10-hour rule is currently FMCSA’s preferred option” because it would be most effective in reducing driver fatigue, the safety groups said.

“Although the agency had no data to support its adoption of the longer 11-hour limit in 2004, the agency decided to stand by that mistake, even though it comes at the cost of numerous additional fatigue-related crashes,” the advocacy groups said.

The new final rule also fails to eliminate the 34-hour restart provision that encourages cumulative fatigue and allows drivers to exceed weekly driving and work limits, the advocates said.

“The restart provision, first instituted in 2004 without any supporting data or research, reduces the off-duty time drivers are allowed from 48 or more hours to just 34 hours off-duty after driving up to 70 hours and working more than 80 hours over eight days,” the advocacy groups said in filing suit. “Changes included in the December 2011 final rule do not prevent the most fatigued drivers, those who work on a schedule of 70 hours of driving in eight-days, from continually using the short and unacceptable 34-hour restart every week, or being required to do so by their trucking company.”

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The advocacy groups said in a news release that driver surveys sponsored by the agency show that under the current HOS rule, two-thirds of truck drivers (65 percent) acknowledged that they drive while tired, and nearly half (48 percent) admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel in the previous year.

“Adding to the problem of driver fatigue, the new FMCSA rule includes a loophole that allows truck drivers to sit in the cab of their truck during their 10-hour, off-duty rest period instead of sleeping,” the groups said. “This will only lead to increased rates of driver fatigue among long-haul drivers who do not have sleeper berths in their trucks.”

In 2004, and again in 2007, the Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in favor of safety organizations that challenged the HOS rule.

In the first case, the court found the agency’s decisions to allow truckers to drive for more hours, both consecutively and weekly, was at odds with the agency’s research and findings of fact that show increases in driving hours results both in higher levels of driver fatigue in each 11-hour shift and in higher levels of cumulative fatigue every week.

“Despite the fact that truck crash fatalities increased by nearly nine percent in 2010, and more than 100,000 people were injured, at a cost to society of nearly $42 billion, the FMCSA Administrator has chosen to imperil public safety by keeping unsafe and illegal driving limits for truck drivers,” said Joan Claybrook, chair of the Board of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), which is part of the Truck Safety Coalition.

“Unfortunately, industry pressure trumped public safety,” said Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), part of the Truck Safety Coalition. “The research is clear and compelling. However, FMCSA’s decision to keep the longer, more dangerous 11 hours of driving time rather than returning to the 10-hour limit will put the public and truck drivers at risk.”

In responding to this latest challenge, FMCSA called the new rule “a major step forward in curbing truck driver fatigue.”

“FMCSA carefully crafted this balanced rule  with extensive collaboration and input from safety advocates, law enforcement and industry  to provide truckers with the time they need to be well-rested, alert and focused on safety,” the statement said.

The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at editor@thetrucker.com.

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