Court ruling on trucking regs roils safety advocates

The new rule, which took effect last month, actually adds new restrictions on the time big rig drivers can spend behind the wheel. But public interest and highway safety groups say the regulations don’t go far enough to protect the nation’s roads from the consequences of driver fatigue. 

Advocates say the trucking industry, which generally pays by the mile instead of the hour, gives drivers an incentive to stay on the road as long as possible.

“Upholding this rule will continue to make our trucks rolling sweatshops,” said Joan Claybrook, chairwoman of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways. “Truck drivers will continue to be pushed beyond their limits and will imperil not just their own lives but the safety of all of us sharing the roads with them.”

As of July 1, drivers are able to drive 12 fewer hours per week and will be required to take regular 34-hour rest periods that include pre-dawn hours of two straight days.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule, the subject of a years-long legal battle, was also opposed by the trucking industry, which argued that it would only exacerbate an existing national driver shortage and hit consumers in their pocketbooks.

Both sides filed lawsuits challenging the rule, which was upheld Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The rule reduced the maximum number of hours a truck driver can work from 82 hours a week to 70 hours, and mandates the 34-hour “restart” requirements. But the daily driving limit remains at 11 hours, despite a challenge from safety groups to lower it to 10 hours. 

“Even though record numbers of truck drivers admit to falling asleep behind the wheel, and being tired when driving long shifts, the FMCSA chose to keep in place the industry-supported features of the rule that allow truckers to drive up to 11 straight hours at a time, instead of 10 hours,” said Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.