At a Washington DC news conference today, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a new hours-of-service (HOS) rule for trucking that contains only two significant changes to the existing rule. One change impacts some short-haul operators and the other long-haul drivers who use the sleeper-berth exemption. The new rule becomes effective October 1, 2005.

The new rule is FMCSA's response to the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to vacate the HOS rule issued in 2003 on the grounds that the agency had failed to consider the rule's health impact on drivers.

"The court vacated the [2003] rule based on driver health, and driver health only," FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg said. In developing the new rule, she said FMCSA "addressed driver health issue very extensively. We believe we had the science and the data [to support the 2003 rule] to begin with. That's what we said during the court case, and the court wanted us to provide it in a more thorough manner."

Based on the agency's own extensive research, Sandberg said FMCSA concluded that driver fatigue is the cause of 5.5% of large truck accidents. "It's important to remember that fatigue-related crashes are what we're trying to address [in the new rule]," she stated. "The other 94.5% were addressed in other regulations. Dealing with that 5.5% will hopefully allow us to use agency resources to address the other 94.5%."

The parts of the rule covering maximum driving time and minimum rest limits will remain the same as they are now. As before, truckers will not be allowed to drive more than 11 hours in a row; work longer than 14 hours in a shift; and drive more than 60 hours over a seven-day period or 70 hours over an eight-day period. The new rule also again requires truckers to rest for at least ten hours between shifts and provides a 34-hour restart period.

The biggest change is that the new rule will allow short-haul operators not required to hold a CDL (such as landscapers and delivery drivers) who work within a 150-mile radius of their starting point to extend their work day by two hours twice a week. They will, however, still be restricted to 11 hours of total driving time within that extended workday. Also, these operators will no longer have to maintain logbooks. Sandberg said this change was prompted by safety data that show short-haul drivers make up over half the commercial fleet yet are involved in less than 7% of fatigue-related fatal truck crashes.

The other notable change is that truckers who utilize the sleeper-berth exemption will have to rest for eight hours in a row in the berth and take another two consecutive hours off duty before resetting their daily driving schedule. According to Sandberg, studies show that drivers are less likely to be fatigued if they take a single, eight-hour "block of rest" than if they break their rest into smaller periods of time, as they were allowed to under the earlier rule.

Sandberg stated she will work with states and the trucking industry for the first three months the rule is in effect to allow "time to update educational materials, train employees and re-program driving schedules."

However, during this transitional period FMCSA and state law enforcement officials will monitor carriers for "egregious" violations and "pursue enforcement action where necessary," she said.

Responding to a question posed during the news conference, Sandberg said she "wouldn't speculate" but conceded there is "always a good chance" that a 400-pg rule like this one could come under court challenge.

For more information or to review the new rule, go to www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/topics/hos/HOS-2005.htm.