U.S. senators, safety groups fight over truck driver rest mandates

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 19, 2014 4:54pm EDT

Freight trucks are driven on the Fisher freeway in Detroit, Michigan March 27, 2009.   REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Freight trucks are driven on the Fisher freeway in Detroit, Michigan March 27, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate wrestled on Thursday over whether to repeal federal regulations that require truck drivers to take nighttime rest breaks, with some lawmakers arguing the rules have led to more daytime accidents while others saying they are critical to relieving fatigue.

The perils of driver fatigue gained national attention earlier this month after a truck crashed into a limousine van carrying comedian Tracy Morgan on the New Jersey Turnpike, critically injuring Morgan and killing another passenger, comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair. The truck driver, Walmart employee Kevin Roper, had not slept for more than 24 hours, according to a criminal complaint filed in Middlesex County Court in New Jersey.

Under a federal law put in place last year, truck drivers must rest for at least 34 hours after working a 70-hour week, and the rest time - known as the restart period - must include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. to ensure truckers get adequate nighttime rest. The law also caps daily driving to 11 hours and requires a 30-minute break every eight hours.

On Thursday, as a Senate transportation, housing and urban development appropriations bill came up for debate with an amendment suspending the time-of-day requirements on rest, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut were pushing to keep them in place.

"Requiring those drivers operating 80,000-pound trucks on busy roads to get some rest is not only common sense, it's supported by science," Booker said on the Senate floor. "The current rule...is preventing crashes, is preventing the loss of life."

But Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and several trucker groups say the restart rules force truckers to drive during busy daytime hours, when more cars are on the road and they are more likely to get into accidents. Collins’s amendment would suspend the restart rules' time-of-day restrictions and once-a-week cap for a year while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducts a study assessing their impact.

"There are people in this country who work a night shift. And if you talk to them, they will tell you that what is disruptive to them is to work a day shift part of the week, a night shift part of the week, go back to the day shift, go back and forth," Collins said.

Sean McNally, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, a trade group, said lawmakers should be more concerned with issues of speed and distracted driving than fatigue.

In 2012, large-truck accidents killed about 4,000 people and injured more than 100,000 nationwide, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. In a 2006 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study, 65 percent of truck drivers reported they often or sometimes felt drowsy while driving. Almost half said they had fallen asleep at the wheel in the previous year.

(Editing by Caren Bohan, Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

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Comments (3)
Daleville wrote:
Would it make sense if truck drivers were limited to driving at night when there are so many less cars on the road?

That would take care of problems with school buses and people going to and from work.

Lots of people, my husband included, work night shifts and sleep during the day so I don’t see why truck drivers couldn’t do the same.

Jun 19, 2014 4:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
wilhelm wrote:
these rules are a sick joke – a 30 minute break every 8 hours?

Jun 19, 2014 5:56pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
MichaelDriver wrote:
The rules are part of the problem… specifically, the rigid 14 hr rule that prevents a driver from exercising sound judgment… there have been a LOT of pundits who, quite frankly, know NOTHING of the rules about which they are making proclamations… I’ve heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth about truckers being allowed/forced to drive 70 hours per week. This is patently untrue. First of all, most people would agree that the term “week” means a 7-day period (say Sun thru Sat)… the 70 hour rule is DUTY hours in an EIGHT day period…. NOT DRIVING hours… There are tasks that MUST be performed and logged as “on duty” that do NOT involve driving. A typical trucker, using the 8-day, 70 hour duty cycle, will use up 15-20 of those hours in the “On Duty, Not Driving” category… these activities include the MANDATORY daily pre-trip and post-trip inspections (30 minutes per day), ALL time spent at a facility where the trailer is being loaded or unloaded (typically 2-3 hours, 4 times in an 8 day week), ALL fuel stops (minimum of 15 minutes, usually 2-3 times per week), and any time spent waiting on repairs or dispatch. Typically, this will leave a driver with, on the low end, 50 DRIVING hours in an 8 day period… doing the math, that’s less than 7 hours per day, average. Even on the HIGH end, 55 hours in an 8-day window, you still have less than 7 hrs of driving PER day… If a company uses a 7-day work week, the overall limit is 60 hours.. even reducing the On Duty, Not Driving time to 10-15 hours, you are still only left with 45-50 hours in a 7 day period… again, an AVERAGE of less than 7 hrs per day of actual driving time… one the 60 or 70 DUTY hour limit has been reached, the driver MUST take a mandatory 34-51 hour break, depending on when he/she actually goes off duty… I’ve been living and breathing these rules and all the permutations thereof for many years… POLITICIANS/MEDIA PUNDITS: PLEASE get your facts straight before making false claims to the public… I don’t know ONE trucker that wants a LONGER work week… ALL of us would like a more SENSIBLE Hours Of Service Regulation that permits us to accomplish our missions using sound judgment, instead of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t even make sense to those who promulgate and spew it… all without having the SLIGHTEST clue about how this industry functions. As I’ve often proclaimed: I’d rather be SAFE than LEGAL!” Remember, and this is VERY important: Both the Walmart AND the FedEx trucks recently involved in high-profile accidents, had ALL of the bells and whistles (Black Boxes, etc)… NONE of those gadgets can replace a well-trained driver exercising SOUND judgment.

Jun 19, 2014 6:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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