US battle heats up over fatigue reform

American trucking bodies unite in bid to head off hours of serivice changes they believe are without merit

April 3, 2013

While Australia still grapples with reforms including national heavy vehicle laws and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, the United States trucking industry is in the midst an ongoing battle over "hours of service" (HOS) reform.

The main protagonists are the American Trucking Associations (ATA) peak body and the Federal Department of Transport’s Federal Carrier Motor Safety Administration (FCMSA).

The government reform push has united in legal action two industry bodies that have been at loggerheads on other developments: the ATA and the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA).

At issue is the rule that drivers are limited to eight hours of continuous driving before requiring at least a 30 minute break.

Also, drivers are able to restart their 70-hour weekly on-duty cycle after 34 hours continuously off duty, however the changes mean that they will be allowed only one such break and it must include two periods between 1am and 5am.

The FCMSA made the changes in 2011, with an additional off-duty allowance that came into force on February 27 this year and new break rules and restart time limits due on July 1.

The OOIDA objects to the proposition that drivers might be declared "out of service" while far from home, telling a US Court of Appeals hearing last month that such a move "constitutes a substantial reversal of agency practice that has been grounded on the factual premise that detection and measurement of driver fatigue is neither technically feasible nor operationally practical".

Amid warnings of likely supply-chain disruptions, falling revenues per truck, higher costs and higher rates, the FCMSA has refused to countenance a delay for time limits.

"FMCSA’s 2011 changes would put onerous restrictions on drivers’ ability to effectively manage their schedules by limiting the use of a restart period to once every seven days, as well as inflexibly mandating off-duty breaks during the workday," the ATA said after the hearing.

"ATA contended that these changes were not supported by the data available and should be rejected."

Complicating matters for the FCMSA is that it is reportedly in the legal sights of consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen for not being tough enough.

No date for a court determination has been given.

Meanwhile, the hard line on HOS generally has led to an increasing reliance on electronic log books amongst trucking firms, according to freight business advisory firm Transport Capital Partners.

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