WASHINGTON — Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Teamsters Union both reacted negatively to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposals to alter the Hours of Service rules.
The agency released the proposed changes in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Wednesday during a news conference.
“Advocates is staunchly opposed to the proposed changes in the NPRM which would significantly weaken HOS rules,” said Cathy Chase, president of the advocacy organization. “Current HOS rules already allow truck drivers to maintain demanding schedules of up to 11 hours behind the wheel during a 14-hour workday. On this existing schedule, truckers can drive up to 77 hours in seven days, double the average American work week. Any proposal that increases pressure on truck drivers, opens new opportunities for abuse of the rules, and further endangers truck drivers and all those who share the roads with them should be rejected.”
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said if implemented, the proposed rules would put road safety at risk.
“While we continue to review these proposed regulatory changes by the FMCSA, the Teamsters have serious concerns about what we have seen thus far when it comes to these hours of service reforms,” Hoffa said.
Chase said the proposed rule changes could have drastic safety impacts, particularly because of the potential to increase driver fatigue.
“While the proposal does not technically change total driving and off-duty time, it does run counter to established science which shows that driver fatigue and crash risk is impacted by the quality of sleep, and by when driving is occurring,” Chase said. “Driving later in the day, later in a shift, and changing the nature of breaks – all lead to more fatigue and more risk of crashes.
Chase listed specific concerns about each of the five key elements in the proposal.
- Short-Haul Exemption. The proposal would extend the short-haul driving window from 12 hours to 14 hours and would expand the radius of operations from 100 air miles to 150 air miles. These proposals coupled with existing exemptions for short-haul drivers increase the likelihood of abuse or fraud related to HOS compliance.
- Adverse Driving Conditions. Drivers already have flexibility for managing unexpected and adverse driving conditions including personal conveyance allowances which can be used to pull off the road safely once one’s HOS limits are reached. Extending this window by two additional hours will put truck drivers on the roads during perilous conditions, endangering both them and everyone on the roads, and could also increase the opportunity for abuse of this exemption.
- 30-Minute Break. This proposed change ties the 30-minute rest break to driving time as opposed to on-duty time. The proposal would also no longer require “breaks” to be taken off-duty. Therefore, a driver could complete their entire work day without ever having an off-duty break.
- Sleeper Berth. The current sleeper berth rule requires two sleeper berth periods, one of at least eight hours, and one of at least two hours. The proposal would shorten the first sleeper berth period to seven hours, exacerbating an already known, widespread problem of truck driver fatigue. The proposal would also allow the second sleeper berth period of two hours or more to extend the driving window, pushing driving time into later shift hours which is known to be associated with higher crash risks.
- Split Duty Provision. This proposal would allow drivers to “pause” their duty clock by 30 minutes and up to three hours, allowing a driver to have a driving window of up to 17 hours. Research shows that driving later in the duty period is associated with higher crash risks.
“These changes and any other proposals that would further degrade HOS rules will increase driver fatigue, an issue the National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly cited as a major contributor to truck crashes. The NTSB has included reducing fatigue-related crashes in every edition of its Most Wanted List of safety changes since 2016. Self-reports of fatigue, which almost always underestimate the problem, document that fatigue in truck operations is a significant issue.”
Chase pointed to a 2006 driver survey prepared for the FMCSA that said 65 percent [of drivers] reported that they often or sometimes felt drowsy while driving” and almost half (47.6 percent) of drivers said they had fallen asleep while driving in the previous year.
“Truck crash deaths continue to increase dramatically. Since 2009, a recent low, truck crash deaths have risen by 41 percent. This level of carnage would not be tolerated in any other industry,” Chase said. Yet, certain segments of the trucking industry continue to push for further weakening of HOS rules and other truck safety regulations. These safety rollbacks, called for under the guise of “flexibility,” are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to force drivers to work even more arduous schedules. Advocates will be providing comments to the Federal Docket in response to this seriously misguided proposal.”
Hoffa said in the effort to increase so-called “flexibility” for trucking companies, the FMCSA is abandoning safety and allowing drivers to push themselves to the limit even further.
“Changes for short-haul truckers, for example, would extend their days from 12 to 14 hours on the job. That means a longer and more exhausting workday for tens of thousands of American workers,” Hoffa said adding that the Teamsters are also concerned about language changing the 30-minute rest break and the ability of drivers to press the pause button on their hours of service clock.
“Trucking is already one of the nation’s most dangerous jobs,” Hoffa said. “We shouldn’t be sacrificing the health and safety of drivers just to pad the profits of their big business bosses.”