Recently revised hours of service rules for truckers are stirring some controversy. But FMCSA stands behind the changes, saying they’ll improve transportation safety.

Last December, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) published revised hours of service (HOS) rules that apply to motor carriers and commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers. The new rules became effective in February, although full compliance is not required until July 1, 2013.

But all has not been smooth sailing for the new HOS rules. Already there have been complaints about the revisions, and now legal challenges.

According to some safety organizations, the new federal rule for driver hours of service has not made adequate improvements.

A lawsuit has been filed by two truck drivers and by three groups, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen, and the Truck Safety Coalition. The suit seeks judicial review of the HOS regulations, claiming the final rule does not reduce the 11-hour limit on consecutive driving to 10 hours, despite FMCSA’s acknowledgment that 10 is a preferred option.

A different legal challenge to the rule has been issued by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which has asked the federal D.C. Court of Appeals to review the rule. Said ATA President Bill Graves, “The rules that have been in place since 2004 have contributed to unprecedented improvement in highway safety.” He said the costs of the new rule outweigh the benefits, noting that speed is a greater highway concern than fatigue.

For their part, FMCSA calls the HOS rule changes “the culmination of the most extensive and transparent public outreach effort in our agency’s history.”

According to FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro, “With robust input from all areas of the trucking community, coupled with the latest scientific research, we carefully crafted a rule acknowledging that when truckers are rested, alert, and focused on safety, it makes our roadways safer.”

What’s Changed?

Here’s a brief outline of key HOS rule changes:

  • The revised rule limits the use of the “34-hour restart” to once a week (168 hours). The purpose of this change is to limit work to no more than 70 hours a week on average. Working long daily and weekly hours on a continuing basis is associated with chronic fatigue, a high risk of crashes, and a number of serious chronic health conditions in drivers.
  • Truck drivers cannot drive after working 8 hours without first taking a break of at least 30 minutes. Drivers can take the 30-minute break whenever they need rest during the 8-hour window.
  • The new rules retain the current 11-hour daily driving limit. FMCSA says, however, that it will continue to conduct data analysis and research to further examine any risks associated with the 11 hours of driving time.
  • The rule requires truck drivers who maximize their weekly work hours to take at least 2 nights’ rest when their 24-hour body clock demands sleep the most—that is, according to FMSCA research, from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. This rest requirement is part of the rule’s “34-hour restart” provision that allows drivers to restart the clock on their workweek by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.
  • On duty time does not include any time resting in a parked vehicle. In a moving property-carrying CMV, on duty time does not include up to 2 hours in passenger seat immediately before or after 8 consecutive hours in a sleeper-berth. This provision provides team drivers an opportunity to “keep the truck moving” by having driver A drive for 10 hours while driver B obtains a full daily rest period without having to stay in the sleeper berth for 10 straight hours.
  • Trucking companies that allow drivers to exceed the 11-hour driving limit by 3 or more hours could be fined $11,000 per offense.
  • Drivers who violate HOS rules could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense.