The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has spent two years considering modifications to hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers, but any proposed increase in regulation could inspire opposition in Congress. The agency has delayed the release of new rules until October, requesting further comment during the summer of 2011. While the agency cites its own research to argue that revisions to the existing regulations are needed to improve safety, members of Congress have vowed to fight any changes.
Four Republican Representatives led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) wrote to President Obama regarding the proposed changes, stating that “we are very concerned the proposed changes will result in additional trucks and drivers on the road to deliver the same amount of freight, adding to the final product costs and increasing congestion on our already overburdened roads.” Industry groups have expressed similar concerns about new regulations. Since the FMCSA has not released new rules, the situation is still simmering. It pits concerns over driver safety against concerns over the impact of new rules on the trucking industry.
Under current rules, commercial truck drivers who do not carry passengers can drive for a maximum of 11 consecutive hours after at least 10 consecutive hours off duty, and they can be on duty for a maximum of 14 consecutive hours. Drivers are also limited to 60 to 70 hours total driving in a 7- to 8-day time period. Proposed new regulations would limit the total number of 14-hour shifts to two per week, with driving time limited to 10 or 11 hours. The FMCSA issued the current rules in 2003, in the first major revision of hours-of-service rules since 1939.
As an agency of the United States Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the U.S. trucking industry, enacting and enforcing safety regulations covering commercial motor vehicles and drivers. It is tasked with monitoring highway safety data, researching existing safety concerns, promulgating rules and regulations enforcing safety policies, and developing technological solutions supporting safety. The agency was established January 1, 2000.
The FMCSA issued a report in May 2011 analyzing driving performance of commercial truck drivers and considering all activities expected of drivers in addition to driving. Aside from driving, drivers may spend time during shifts performing “heavy work” like loading and unloading their trailers and “light work” like paperwork and other administrative tasks. Drivers also take breaks during shifts to eat, sleep, and relax. The report identified driver drowsiness as a major concern, but also the variety and range of tasks performed by drivers during a shift. All of these factors can negatively affect driver safety.