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Fighting Driver Fatigue by Changing the Rules

With the Department of Transportation set to announce new hours of service (HOS) rules near the end of December 2011, the debate about whether the new rules are needed or not continues.

The new rules would restrict the number of hours that commercial drivers could drive per day and require a rest period. Proponents of the changes believe that the new rules are needed to help make America’s roadways safer by fighting driver fatigue.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) does not believe that changes to the current HOS rules are necessary. Pointing to the most current available government crash data, ATA argued in a letter that the current HOS rules have helped lead to a decline in the number of truck accidents and truck-accident-related fatalities in recent years.

Safety advocates, however, as the Trucker notes, claim that ATA is “ignor[ing] historical trends,” and, according to more recent estimates, truck-related fatalities again are on the rise. According to Anne Ferro of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), initial 2010 data show truck accident related fatalities rose by nearly 600 from 2009 to approximately 4,000 deaths.

Proposed HOS Changes

The proposed rules will limit the number of hours that drivers can be behind the wheel consecutively, requiring that drivers take at least a 30 minute rest period after 7 consecutive hours of driving. Though, the Department of Transportation is still considering whether to keep the number of total hours drivers can drive during the driving window at 11 hours or lowering it to 10 hours.

One of the big changes in the proposed rules concerns the time off drivers must take in order to restart their weekly limits on driving hours. The proposed rules would require two overnight periods (defined as midnight to 6 a.m.) to be taken by drivers before their weekly hours would be reset.