John Conley, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), is supporting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for retaining its hours-of-service (HOS) rule. The rule allows truck drivers to continue to drive up to 11 hours within a 14-hour, non-extendable window from the start of the workday, after at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.

The rule also allows motor carriers and drivers to continue to restart calculations of the weekly on-duty limits after the driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.

“I congratulate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for sticking to its guns and publishing a rule that not only is based on sound science, but that has proven itself in the real world,” Conley told Bulk Transporter on November 19. “I do fully expect the anti-truck activists to attack any rule the DOT (Department of Transportation) puts out, and to gain support from some on Capitol Hill. This rule will allow the trucking industry to continue to provide safe and efficient service to the public.”

FMCSA said the rule (49 CFR Parts 385 and 395) becomes effective January 19, 2009, according to information published November 19 in the Federal Register.

The agency is adopting provisions of its December 17, 2007, interim final rule. Because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held in 2007 that the agency had failed to provide an opportunity for public comment on certain aspects of the 2005 Regulatory Impact Analysis, the 2007 interim final rule provided a 60-day period for the public to comment on the analysis.

Public Citizen, an advocacy group involved in the court challenge, is urging the Obama administration and the next Congress to rescind the FMCSA decision.

In response to the court's finding that FMCSA did not provide an adequate explanation for certain critical elements in one of its analytical models used in the analysis, the preamble to the interim rule also included a detailed explanation of the agency's time-on-task methodology to address the second flaw identified by the court.

FMCSA said research on the causes and effects of fatigue is sometimes inconsistent, frequently based on work environments other than truck driving, and usually conducted on a small scale. It is not unusual for an assertion or conclusion related to fatigue to be questioned in some published study. Researchers have also examined environmental factors related to many potential driver health issues, but these studies are not sufficiently precise to allow reasonable estimates of the benefits of remedial measures.

Due to the lack of clear and consistent scientific evidence in this area, the agency said it went to great lengths to review the research literature, using resources of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as well as experts from other DOT organizations. FMCSA's own expertise and judgment were significant in reviewing, evaluating, and properly weighing research findings. The agency said its knowledge of the motor carrier industry and its patterns of operation provide a sound basis for assessing the safety impact of this rulemaking action.

“In fact, FMCSA's own field surveys, conducted in 2005 and 2007 in the course of HOS rulemakings, constitute some of the most comprehensive sources of data on driving hours, off-duty time, and utilization of the restart provision,” FMCSA said in its final rule. “The scientific, operational, and economic analyses underlying this rule have been meticulous and extensive. The provisions made final today reflect both the paramount importance we attach to safety and the critical role of the motor carrier industry in the US and world economy.”

Included in the final rule is the eight-hour sleeper-berth period adopted in 2005 that remains unchanged. The 2005 rule required drivers who use sleeper berths to take eight consecutive hours in the berth and another two hours off duty or in the berth, as the driver chooses.

The rule also addresses time involved in loading and unloading. “While miscellaneous off-duty periods taken by drivers when confronting certain logistical realities cannot be used to extend the 14-hour window within which up to 11 hours of driving time may take place, these off-duty periods are not counted as driving time or on-duty time and thus would reduce the likelihood of accumulating 84 hours on duty in seven days, or 98 hours on-duty in eight days. For example, if a driver is delayed for a few hours while waiting to unload a shipment and goes off duty, that off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour window within which up to 11 hours of driving time may take place; however, it is not counted in the maximum 60 or 70 hours of on-duty time allowed within a seven- or eight-day consecutive period, or following a minimum 34-hour restart period. In other words, it reduces the likelihood that a driver would accumulate the maximum 84 hours on duty in seven days, or 98 hours on-duty in eight days, as noted by commenters.”

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) also welcomes the HOS final rule. The group said that while operating under these rules for the past five years, the trucking industry's safety performance has dramatically improved. Large-truck crash, injury, and fatality rates have reached their lowest point since the DOT began recording the statistics.

According to the ATA, substantive provisions of these HOS rules have never been overturned by any court. Predictions of fatigue and accidents made by labor union advocates have never come to pass, the group said.