The number of weekly and consecutive daily hours which a commercial truck drivers can log, known as the “Hours of Service” rule (HOS), has been the subject of regulation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for years. The goal of these regulations, limiting danger to the motoring public from a fatigued driver, is obvious and necessary for safety.

The present rule has been in effect since 2003 and statistics have shown that it has had a positive impact on safety, as the number of fatigue-based crashes has been on the decline. However, citing new and ongoing research which demonstrates that changes are necessary to further enhance safety, the FMCSA has proposed changes to the HOS rules which are meeting with resistance from the trucking industry.

Some of the core changes in dispute, are new requirements that a driver have at least two consecutive periods of rest between the hours of 1:00 am and 5:00 am in order for the “34 Hour Restart” rule to be utilized, and a restriction that a driver’s mandatory 30 minute break from driving also exclude all other on duty activity. According to the FMCSA, these provisions are necessary “to reduce excessively long work hours that increase both the risk of fatigue-related crashes and long term health problems for drivers”.  The FMCSA states that the new rules will “ensure that [drivers] have enough time off to obtain adequate rest on a daily and weekly basis.”  In support of the new restrictions to use of the “34 Hour Restart” rule, the FMCSA has stated:

“Because research has shown that long weekly hours are associated with a higher risk of crashes, sleep loss, and negative health effects, the rule . . . limits the use of the restart to once a week, which, on average, will cut the maximum work week from 82 to 70 hours.  The provision allows drivers to work intensely for one week, but will require them to compensate by taking more time off in the following week.  Research has long demonstrated that daytime sleep is shorter in duration and lower in quality than nighttime sleep. [As such, t]he rule requires any driver working long enough to need a restart to take off at least 34 consecutive hours that include 2 periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. . . . This provision will give those drivers who both routinely work at night and put in very long work weeks an opportunity to overcome the chronic fatigue that can build up when working nights.”

Although the new proposed rules are supported by clinical research and appear to have a sound basis designed to reduce the risk that a chronically fatigued driver will get behind the wheel of an 80,000 lb truck, the measures are being challenged in court.  The suit, filed by the by the American Trucking Association (ATA) on February 14, 2012, has now been joined by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), which moved to intervene on March 15, 2012.

Additional information on the proposed new rules and the FMCSA’s rationale for same can be found online here. Information on the opposition to the rules by the ATA and TCA can be found online here.