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After a 14-year fight, truck driver fatigue rule is finally final

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy truck drivers are a serious and growing problem. Their data shows that injury accidents involving large commercial trucks rose 10 percent in 2011, and truck accidents causing fatalities were up by 2 percent. How many of those were caused by truck driver fatigue? About 13 percent, according to a 2007 study by the two agencies.

It’s no surprise that truckers work long hours, because being on the road means they’re making money. There comes a point, however, when extra earning time for truckers means less highway safety overall. Figuring out where, exactly, that point comes has been the subject of some 14 years of debate and litigation between trucking industry groups, traffic safety advocates and regulators. On July 1 of this year, the FMCSA finalized its rules on the number of hours commercial drivers can legally work before taking a break.

The trucking industry immediately filed suit.

Here’s what the July 1 rules did to ensure commercial truck drivers get more rest:

  • Reduced the maximum daily drive time from 14 to 11 hours behind the wheel
  • Reduced the maximum rolling two-week total of drive time from 82 hours to 70
  • Instructed drivers who reach that 70-hour total to rest for 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights
  • Required short-haul drivers to take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of any shift
  • Set fines and penalties for drivers and trucking companies who exceed these limits

On Friday, Aug. 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the greatest part of the new rule and officially deferred to the expertise of the FMCSA when it comes to balancing highway safety needs against added costs for commercial carriers. The court did overrule the 30-minute break provision for short-haul truckers.

The reason these rules took 14 years to implement is that this was at least the fourth appeal over the FMCSA’s hours-of-service rules. The trucking industry has appealed twice over drive-time restrictions it felt were too strict, while consumer safety groups such as Public Citizen has sued over their being too lenient and leading to what one group called “rolling sweatshops.” With this final appeal, the wait is over.

“With one small exception, our decision today brings an end to much of the permanent warfare,” reads the decision.


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