First Driving Regs Since WWII

December 15, 2003
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The new year will present over-the-road truck drivers and hauling companies with new federal regulations designed to reduce driver fatigue and fatigue-related accidents.

The rules actually bump up the number of consecutive hours that a driver may operate a truck while also increasing the required off-duty time between shifts.

Beginning next month, new hours-of-service regulations will allow drivers to drive for up to 11 consecutive hours after being off duty for 10 straight hours.

Including rest periods during their shift, the new rules allow drivers to be on duty for up to 14 hours straight, down from 15 hours daily under the present regulation.

Under present rules, drivers may drive for up to 10 hours straight. But with the new 11-hour driving limit, the new rules also require drivers to take two additional hours of rest each day.

The new rules represent the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation has implemented major changes in hours-of-service regulations since 1939, said Lt. David Ford of the Michigan State Police Motor Carrier Division.

The old regulation "really didn't match what we know now about sleep patterns and trucker behavior and what we know about the industry today," Ford said.

The old regulations also predate modern load capacities, and relatively level non-stop interstate highways — only the Pennsylvania turnpike existed prior to World War II — not to mention modern speeds and sometimes-soporific amenities such as high fidelity sound systems and air conditioned cabs.

Ford said the State Police now is taking its motor carrier officers and inspectors through a period of training to understand the new rule and to begin enforcing it as of Sunday, Jan. 4.

"It's going to be an adjustment," Ford said.

The regulations, handed down by the U.S. Department of Transportation, are enforced in this state by the Michigan State Police.

The rule change came in response to concerns about the effect of fatigue as a contributing factor in commercial motor vehicle crashes.

The Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates the regulation change will prevent more than 1,300 fatigue-related crashes annually.

During the year 2002, 4,902 truck-related fatalities occurred in traffic crashes across the nation.

"The hours-of-service final rule represents a significant improvement in addressing driver fatigue over the current rule that has been in existence more than 60 years," said Annette Sandberg, Motor Carrier Safety Administration administrator, last spring when the new rule was first published.

"It is a rule that not only is based on science," she said, "but makes practical sense from both a lifesaving and operations perspective, ensuring greater safety without additional enforcement complexity."

The change, finalized in late August when the administration rejected several appeals, "strikes a balance between reasonableness, consistency and enforceability, while improving safety and protecting all highway users," Sandberg said.

The new rule applies to drivers transporting freight in interstate commerce in commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more.

The rule also covers drivers who are operating vehicles transporting hazardous materials in quantities that require DOT vehicle placards.

Truck drivers may not drive after being on duty for 60 hours within a seven-day period, or for 70 hours in an eight-day period. 

The rule allows the on-duty cycle to restart whenever a driver takes at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.

Drivers of buses involved in interstate transportation will continue to use the current hours-of-service regulations.    

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