The trucking industry is backing the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) decision to submit the current hours-of-service (HOS) rules as its proposal contained in its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), published Jan. 24 in the Federal Register [RIN-2126-AA90].Two industry trade groups, the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) and the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), cite anecdotal evidence of safety improvements gained under the current HOS rules.

However, the burden is on the agency to consider the current rule’s effects on driver health, as ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [Public Citizen at all v. FMCSA, 374 F.3d 120]. Additionally, the proposed rule will be scrutinized as to how addresses three other safety concerns noted by the Court: increasing driving time from 10 to 11 hours; allowing drivers to split their 10-hour off-duty period, and the agency’s failure to evaluate the costs and benefits of requiring electronic on-board recording devices (EOBRs).

If the agency can come up with the research to back the current rules’ validity in maintaining or improving driver health and safety, chances for major changes in the final rule, due on Sept. 30, 2005, will be diminished.

“I think there’s enough data to support the current rules,” Bob Inderbitzen, NPTC’s director of safety & compliance told Fleet Owner, pointing out that under the old rules, driver health was adversely impacted by using off-duty time to idle in long lines at loading docks.

“The consecutive hours (in the current rule) changed all of that,” Inderbitzen said. “Companies started taking all those inefficiencies out of the system, and driver health improved because the driver is no longer waiting around during off-duty time.

“That was the biggest impact the new rules had on drivers’ health. You would have to pay the driver for idle time, and companies can’t afford to operate that way, although they could when it was charged to the driver.”

As a result of the positive impact the current rules have had on improving efficiencies, drivers’ health has benefited, Inderbitzen explained. “People talk about the extra driving time, but the current rules eliminated all this dead time that was heaped up in the driver’s off-duty time in the first place,” he said.

ATA concurs with the agency that the current rules haven’t appeared to have any adverse effect on safety since becoming effective in January 2004. Dave Osiecki, ATA’s vp of safety & operation, cited anecdotal evidence from ATA members as well as “promising” initial NHTSA 2004 large-truck fatality data released by the agency that indicates fatalities have dropped just over 3% from 2003.

Although it is too early to tell if the drop in the fatality rate was the result of the current HOS rules, it does support the agency’s stance that the rules were not detrimental to safety.

But with an accelerated deadline for the agency to issue the final rule, Osiecki said some concern remains over what transition could result from that final rule.

“From a stability standpoint, the industry wants to know what the rules of the game are going to be,” Osiecki told Fleet Owner. “Typically, the next step for the agency is [to issue] a final rule— either an interim final rule or the final rule itself.”

For more HOS coverage, see HOS rulemaking underway