The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) in December that covers hours of service for truck drivers. The rules continue to limit truckers to driving 11 hours within a 14-hour duty period, after which they must go off duty for at least 10 hours.
The agency issued the IFR in response to the recent decision by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals that vacated key provisions of the existing hours of service rules effective on December 27. The IFR, temporarily reinstating the two key provisions of the rules, is intended as a bridge until the agency has gathered public comment and safety analysis data prior to issuing a final rule.
Ergonomics research shows that fatigue increases the risk of accidents and decreases efficiency and productivity, particularly in high-risk occupations. Quoting safety and insurance groups, an article in the New York Times in December 2006 described trucking as America’s most treacherous industry, as measured by overall deaths and injuries from truck accidents. The fatality rate for truck-related accidents remains nearly double that involving only cars, these authorities say. The Times article was the first in a series about the impact of President George W. Bush’s deregulation strategy, which has repealed enforcement or completion of hundreds of federal rules.
Prior to the changes during the Bush administration, drivers were required to have eight hours off after 10 hours of driving or 15 hours of work, which could include loading and unloading or other duties. They were allowed to split their rest hours into two parts, the shorter as little as two hours that could be taken in a cab’s sleeper berth. At the time the safety debate was roiling about changes to the hours of service rules, the National Transportation Safety Board published an estimate that blamed 750 to 1,500 deaths annually on crashes in which trucker fatigue is a factor.
Reports on the new interim rules in December in an industry publication, Truckers, included the FMCSA’s analysis of the impact of the added hour of driving. The article noted that public advocacy groups maintain that the 11-hour rule leads to more fatigued truckers on the nation’s highways, but FMCSA said statistics from Trucks Involved in Fatal Accidents (TIFA) don’t support such concerns when it comes to accidents, and especially fatal, fatigue-related accidents, during the extended daily driving limit.
In 2003, 13 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes where the truck driver was operating in the 11th hour of driving (which was illegal in 2003), but in only one of those crashes was the truck driver coded as being fatigued, FMCSA said. In 2004, the first year under the new hours of service rule, a total of 16 large trucks were involved in fatal highway crashes in the 11th hour. However, none of those 2004 fatal crashes in the 11th driving hour were fatigue-related, according to the agency.
The 2005 TIFA data show 13 large trucks involved in fatal crashes while the truck driver was in the 11th hour of driving. In only one of those crashes was the truck driver coded as fatigued. So, “the 2004 and 2005 TIFA data represent an improvement over the pre-2003 period, in terms of the percentage of large truck drivers operating in the 11th hour who were coded as fatigued at the time of the crash,” the agency stated.
Sources: Truckers; FMCSA