WASHINGTON -- New federal rules on how long a trucker may stay behind the wheel will be put off for at least a year, upsetting highway safety advocates who say trucker fatigue contributes to hundreds of road fatalities annually.
But the trucking industry said the rules delay, being agreed to as part of congressional budget negotiations, was needed to come up with a workable plan.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who has led efforts to improve truck safety, said the compromise was fair because it would allow the Transportation Department to continue gathering data on how trucking hours can best be revised.
But Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations panel on transportation, also cautioned: "I want to tell the trucking industry that we're not going to rest until there is a good rule to protect the public."
The Transportation Department last spring issued proposed rules to change an hours-of-service system adopted in 1937. Those rules were based on an 18-hour cycle of 10 hours driving and eight hours off, but since they don't account for the other six hours of the day a driver could legally stay behind the wheel for 16 hours in one 24-hour period.
The department has estimated that those long hours are in part responsible for the 755 annual fatalities and nearly 20,000 injuries resulting from crashes involving fatigued commercial drivers.
The proposed rules would require drivers of trucks and buses to operate on a 24-hour cycle, with 12 hours of allowable driving time. Two consecutive nights of sleep between midnight and 6 a.m. would be required every seven days for long-haul drivers.
Safety groups said the new rules didn't go far enough, but the trucking industry attacked them as counterproductive to safe highways.
They said the rules would require trucking companies to hire more new, inexperienced drivers and force trucks to operate during daylight hours when highways are crowded with passenger cars. Unions said truckers would see reduced earning power.
The Senate, in its version of the $30 billion transportation spending bill for fiscal year 2001, barred all funds for the Transportation Department to move ahead with the new rules.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.