Obama administration, trucking industry at odds over changes to driver fatigue rules

By: Brad Gardner

US trucking lobby wants changes to driving hours for truck drivers, despite objections from government and safety groups.

Obama administration, trucking industry at odds over changes to driver fatigue rules
ATA president and CEO Bill Graves claims existing fatigue management rules increase the risk of crashes.


The US trucking industry is continuing its push to change the country’s fatigue management rules, despite strong objections from government and road safety groups.

Congress is currently debating contentious amendments that, if passed, will suspend the requirement for truck drivers to have two consecutive nights of rest and ease restrictions on when a 34-hour rest break can be taken. 

The Obama administration and various road safety advocates want Congress to reject the amendments, but the American Trucking Associations (ATA) says both existing rules should be suspended to allow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) to conduct research into whether they are effective.

"Since these restrictions were imposed, driver after driver and fleet after fleet have said they are having a much greater impact than FMCSA envisioned and, as a result, the agency should have to do more research before imposing these rules," ATA chairman Duane Long says.

Currently, drivers working 70 hours a week must have a 34-hour rest period that includes two consecutive nights from 1am to 5am. Drivers are limited to using the 34-hour break, which restarts their driving hours, once every seven days.

The proposed changes, known as the 'Collins Amendment', will allow drivers to work at night as long as they meet their rest requirements and permit them to take more than one 34-hour rest per week.

The ATA claims the requirement that drivers take two consecutive nights of rest between 1am and 5am increases the chance of crashes because more trucks are on the road at peak times.

"In July 2013, with insufficient research, analysis and understanding of the consequences, the Obama administration placed two restrictions on America’s truck drivers that increased the risk of crashes on American highways," ATA president and CEO Bill Graves says.

"Senator Susan Collins, and a bipartisan majority of Senate appropriators, recognised the flaws in the changes put forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and voted to approve a common sense ‘time out’ to allow for proper research to be conducted."

But US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx has intervened in the debate with a letter to senators and house representatives defending the existing rest requirements and claiming the proposed changes will endanger lives.

"I am seriously concerned that this suspension will put lives at risk, as it will increase the maximum allowable work limits for truck drivers from an average of 70 hours per week to over 82," he says.

"The evidence clearly shows that truck drivers are better rested and more alert after two nights of sleep than one night, and that unending 80-hour work weeks lead to driver fatigue and compromise highway safety."

Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Brotherhood of Teamsters and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) have all lined up behind Foxx to argue for the existing requirements to remain.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Jackie Gillan accused the trucking industry of running an "anti-safety agenda", while PATT founder Daphne Izer says she is shocked Congress is considering the changes in light of the crash that injured comedian Tracy Morgan earlier this year.

"Congress should not be listening to well-heeled and well-connected trucking executives who want to push truck drivers to work 82 hours in a week," she says.

"Truck driver fatigue is a major serious threat to everyone on the road."

The debate about changes to driver fatigue rules flared in the aftermath of the crash that injured Morgan and killed James McNair in June.

Existing fatigue management requirements were introduced in 2011.

Foxx says they include a 30-minute rest within the first eight hours of a driver’s shift.

The 34-hour rest period is known as the "restart" because drivers can then work for 70 hours over seven days after taking it.

"In the interest of safety, the 2011 rule restricted drivers to using the restart only once every seven days and it required that the restart period include at least two periods of rest between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.," Foxx writes on his department’s blog.

"Basically, it required that drivers have the opportunity to take a very real rest and catch up on sleep before working another very long week.  The net effect of these changes was to reduce the average maximum week a driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours."


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