The Dept. of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations, released publically on Dec. 23, came under immediate fire from the American Trucking Assns. (ATA).

Bill Graves, president & CEO of ATA, said the proposal was “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking’s productivity.”

According to FMCSA, the proposal would retain the existing 34-hour “restart” provision that it said allows drivers to “restart the clock” on their weekly 60 or 70 hours by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.

Read previous coverage from Fleetowner on HOS

However, the restart period would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6 a.m., and drivers would be allowed to use this restart only once during a seven-day period, noted DOT. The proposed rule would also require truckers “to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday, and to complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for at least a one- hour break.”

According to ATA, the proposal would reduce the maximum daily driving time to 10 hours, reduce the maximum daily working time window by an additional hour, and abolish the 34-hour restart as it exists today, despite what the press release from DOT said.

“When viewed against trucking’s sterling safety record,” said Graves, “it’s plain that the Obama Administration’s willingness to break something that’s not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health.”

Graves noted that DOT itself has released safety figures that show fatalities have dropped 33% from the 2003 level and that both fatality and injury crash rates are at their lowest levels since DOT began keeping records. All this, Graves pointed out, has happened under the current Hours-of-Service rules.

“Hard-pressed to argue safety benefits of further restricting truck driver productivity, the Obama Administration is trying to justify its proposed changes as needed to improve driver health,” a press release from ATA read. “A big problem for the Obama Administration, however, is that FMCSA has consistently gone on record over the last 5 years with supporting information and data stating the current rules are having no negative effect on driver health.”

Graves said the proposed changes “will be enormously expensive for trucking and the economy” and could cost the industry more than $2.2 billion according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s own study.

According to Graves, FMCSA concluded just two years ago that “eliminating the 11th hour is unlikely to be cost effective under any reasonable set of circumstances.”

“This proposal includes even more restrictions than what FMCSA previously considered” said Graves, and “as a result, we will be evaluating FMCSA’s proposed costs and benefits very carefully.”

DOT did not make a final determination on the 11th driving hour, noting that it was willing to listen to the pros and cons, although it was inclined to drop the 11th hour in the final proposal.

DOT stated that publication of the proposed rule “coincides with the timeframe established in a court settlement agreement that requires FMCSA to publish a final HOS rule by July 26, 2011.”

In its response, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) declined to take a formal stance at this point, instead renewing its call for flexibility in a driver’s workday.

“To say the least, federal Hours-of-Service regulations are consequential to the lives and livelihoods of our nation’s truck drivers,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vp. “Those rules govern truckers whether they are behind the wheel of a truck or off duty and at home with their families.”

OOIDA has maintained that changes to the regulation needed to include all aspects of a workday, including loading and unloading times, split sleeper berth for team operations, and the ability to interrupt a 14-hour day for needed rest periods.

“We want the motoring public to know that it’s not just about how long a truck driver spends behind the wheel that affects the safety of everyone on the highways,” said Spencer. “Many truck drivers spend between 30-40 hours per week waiting at loading docks. Everyone involved in transportation, from shippers to receivers, has a responsibility for its role in keeping highways safe. And we won’t have optimum safety until others in the supply chain truly act responsibly.

“We have been anxiously awaiting the public release of the proposed new rules,” said Spencer. “We are carefully analyzing the proposal, but I can tell you that to make additional safety gains, the next hours-of-service rule must be more flexible to allow drivers to sleep when tired and to work when rested. The rules must encourage truck drivers to get off the road when they are tired and must not penalize them for doing so.”