For Immediate Release: August 14, 2019
Contact: Pete Daniels (202) 408-1711, (301) 442-2249 (c) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Statement of Cathy Chase, President,
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
on Proposed Changes to Commercial Truck Safety Regulations
Latest effort to weaken hours-of-service rules threatens safety
Proposal belies data and defies common sense
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) is staunchly opposed to the proposed changes in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published this morning by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) which would significantly weaken hours-of-service (HOS) rules. Current HOS rules already allow truck drivers to maintain demanding schedules of up to 11 hours behind the wheel during a 14-hour workday. On this existing schedule, truckers can drive up to 77 hours in seven days, double the average American work week. Any proposal that increases pressure on truck drivers, opens new opportunities for abuse of the rules, and further endangers truck drivers and all those who share the roads with them should be rejected.
Rule changes proposed in this NPRM could have drastic safety impacts, particularly due to the potential to increase driver fatigue. While the proposal does not technically change total driving and off-duty time, it does run counter to established science which shows that driver fatigue and crash risk is impacted by the quality of sleep, and by when driving is occurring. Driving later in the day, later in a shift, and changing the nature of breaks – all lead to more fatigue and more risk of crashes.
Specific concerns with the NPRM include:
- Short-Haul Exemption: The proposal would extend the short-haul driving window from 12 hours to 14 hours and would expand the radius of operations from 100 air miles to 150 air miles. These proposals coupled with existing exemptions for short-haul drivers increase the likelihood of abuse or fraud related to HOS compliance.
- Adverse Driving Conditions: Drivers already have flexibility for managing unexpected and adverse driving conditions including personal conveyance allowances which can be used to pull off the road safely once one’s HOS limits are reached. Extending this window by two additional hours will put truck drivers on the roads during perilous conditions, endangering both them and everyone on the roads, and could also increase the opportunity for abuse of this exemption.
- 30-Minute Break: This proposed change ties the 30-minute rest break to driving time as opposed to on-duty time. The proposal would also no longer require “breaks” to be taken off-duty. Therefore, a driver could complete their entire workday without ever having an off-duty break.
- Sleeper Berth: The current sleeper berth rule requires two sleeper berth periods. One of at least eight hours, and one of at least two hours. The proposal would shorten the first sleeper berth period to seven hours, exacerbating an already known, widespread problem of truck driver fatigue. The proposal would also allow the second sleeper berth period of two hours or more to extend the driving window, pushing driving time into later shift hours which is known to be associated with higher crash risks.
- Split Duty Provision: This proposal would allow drivers to “pause” their duty clock by 30 minutes and up to three hours, allowing a driver to have a driving window of up to 17 hours. Research shows that driving later in the duty period is associated with higher crash risks.
These changes and any other proposals that would further degrade HOS rules will increase driver fatigue, an issue the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has repeatedly cited as a major contributor to truck crashes. The NTSB has included reducing fatigue-related crashes in every edition of its Most Wanted List of safety changes since 2016. Self-reports of fatigue, which almost always underestimate the problem, document that fatigue in truck operations is a significant issue. In a 2006 driver survey prepared for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), “65 percent [of drivers] reported that they often or sometimes felt drowsy while driving” and almost half (47.6 percent) of drivers said they had fallen asleep while driving in the previous year.
Truck crash deaths continue to increase dramatically. Since 2009, a recent low, truck crash deaths have risen by 41 percent. This level of carnage would not be tolerated in any other industry. Yet, certain segments of the trucking industry continue to push for further weakening of HOS rules and other truck safety regulations. These safety rollbacks, called for under the guise of “flexibility,” are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to force drivers to work even more arduous schedules. Advocates will be providing comments to the Federal Docket in response to this seriously misguided proposal.