The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has published a final rule in the Federal Register on hours-of-service regulations that will maintain the 11th hour of driving and 34-hour restart provisions already in place. The final rule will be effective January 19, 2009.

The final rule will go into effect the day before the Obama administration comes into office. It is unknown whether the new President will want to keep hours of service as they are or re-address the regulations early on in his term.

FMCSA said that it has adequately addressed the concerns about the regulations raised since the interim final rule was published on December 17, 2007 and subsequently struck down by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The agency stated that further research has indicated that they do not need to make any changes to the interim rule.

"This rule was designed to continue the downward trend in truck fatalities and maintain motor carrier operational efficiencies," said FMCSA Administrator John Hill. "Our science is meticulous and our analysis exhaustive so that we can deliver definitive results: more alert and efficient drivers, safer roads, and even fewer fatalities."

According to Hill, the number of large truck fatalities declined for the third straight year in 2007 with 4,808 fatalities, down 9% from 2005. He added that there was only one fatigue-related fatality that occurred during a truck driver’s eleventh hour of driving between 2004 and 2006.

Hill also spoke of the financial implications of the hours-of-service regulations, noting that FCMSA’s data projects that eliminating the eleventh driving hour would result in a $2.4 billion business loss with only $214 million in safety benefits.

According to FMCSA, drivers and carriers are using the eleventh driving hour more often than they did in 2005, but 69% of drivers still drove less than 10 hours during a typical daily shift. FMCSA also quoted an American Trucking Assns. (ATA) study last year that found just 46% of drivers reported using the eleventh driving hour on only 13% of their daily trips.

FMCSA noted that most of the more than 90 carriers and carrier associations that responded during the public comment period reported reductions in crashes and in injuries, quoting Schneider National as noting they found “significant improvements in safety under the current HOS regulations. Safety is a multi-variant challenge, and while we cannot attribute all of the improvement to the HOS rules, it is reasonable to conclude that the current HOS regulations have not had a negative impact on safety (as some have suggested).”

“The American Trucking Assns. welcomes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s reaffirmation of the Hours of Service rules that have been in place since January 2004,” ATA said. “The HOS rules are safety rules and the trucking industry’s safety performance facts are ones that the public, the media and the Congress will never hear from some so-called safety advocacy groups. Some of these special interest groups continue to mislead the public, the media and Congress by mischaracterizing court rulings and much of the scientific research, and denying that safety in the industry has improved.”

However, there is still strong opposition to the hours-of-service regulation from safety advocate groups and some driver associations. “FMCSA’s rule, which ignores mountains of safety research, authorizes the exact same 11 hours of driving and 34-hour restart provisions of rules past – rules that the court deemed were inadequate,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. This rule will continue to force truck drivers to continue enduring sweatshop-like working conditions. This puts the health and safety of drivers at risk, along with the public who must share the road with tired truckers.

“The Obama administration and the next Congress should add the hours-of-service rule to its list of wrong-headed Bush administration policies that should be rescinded,” Claybrook added. “The courts, the truckers’ unions and consumer and safety advocates have pushed for a sensible rule to no avail. For real change, it’s time to put the safety of truckers and the motoring public first.”