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Changes to commercial trucking restrictions stir safety debate

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is currently is poised to revise hours-of-service rules in an effort designed to reduce truck accidents. The proposed changes include shortening a workday from 11 to 10 hours as well as modifying the mandatory 34-hour off period at the end of the week to include two rest periods of six or more hours between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. The changes will have an effect beyond the congested highways of Atlanta and will likely be felt nationwide.

Safety advocacy groups are very much in favor of the planned changes and suggest that the greatest impact will be the lives saved by fewer accidents involving commercial trucks. The financial savings of fewer truck accidents, according to these groups, is approximately $20 billion. With more well rested drivers on the road, the changes are intended to foster safer drivers, and as a result, fewer accidents. Previous, similar changes to the hours-of-service rules saw a 36 percent drop in fatal truck accidents, which suggests that additional changes would have a similar benefit.

The trucking industry and the drivers themselves are not so fond of the proposed changes. The trucking industry feels like the beneficial statistics are inflated and the costs of such a change would be exorbitant. Trucking industry lobbyists insist that such a change would cost the industry $2 billion and create more new driver positions than there are experienced drivers to fill them. In addition, many drivers point to the fact that mandatory rest period requirements would lead to cost and time delays by forcing them to postpone the start of some of their driving shifts until 6 a.m., when they are more likely to be stuck in rush hour traffic in large cities like Atlanta.

Litigation involving both sides of the argument is pending, but it appears the FMCSA is prepared to issue new guidelines within the next 30 days. The new rules are currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, a Congressional subcommittee will convene this week to hear additional arguments on the matter from industry stakeholders.

Sources: Gaston Gazette, "Trucking, safety groups play chicken over new rules," Ragan Robinson, Nov. 8, 2011

Transport Topics, "FMCSA Expects Final Hours-of-Service Rule Within 30 Days," Eric Miller, Nov. 29, 2011

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