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Groups Seek Review of New Trucker Fatigue Law

by Brendan Coyne

Feb. 28, 2006 – Five labor, safety and public-interest organizations jointly laid the groundwork yesterday for a legal challenge to recently issued rules covering the number of hours truck drivers can operate their vehicles without a break. They contend the new rules, issued last summer, are essentially the same as those struck down by a court in 2004.

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Yesterday’s petition, filed with the District of Columbia US Court of Appeals, asked that the law be reviewed in light of a 2004 ruling by the same court. That previous ruling held that a 2003 revision of truck-driver regulations contained several "dubious" assumptions and failed to "even acknowledge, much less justify, that the rule… dramatically increases the maximum permissible [time] drivers may work each week."

The organizations – Public Citizen, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and three highway-safety advocacy organizations – asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to review the new rules last fall. They have yet to receive a response. In seeking a court-ordered review, the coalition hopes to again have the rules scrapped. The FMCSA is the government body responsible for setting and maintaining national motor-vehicle transportation regulations.

Between 1997 and 2000, the last period for which the data are available, FMCSA reported fatigue-related accidents with large trucks accounted for an average of 375 deaths and 7,500 injuries a year and cost over $2 billion a year.

"That FMCSA chose in both rules to expand driving hours is astounding given its statutory mandate to make safety its highest priority and Congress’s specific directive to the agency to reduce fatigue-related incidents," Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said in a statement announcing the petition. "We fully expect the court to find once again that this rule violates the agency’s clear assignment to put safety first."

Under the 2003 rules, truckers were permitted to drive for eleven hours without a break. It did not mandate onboard recorders or logbooks, the court found, leaving the regulations wide-open to abuse by employees and employers alike.

According to the Teamsters union, not only are the new rules almost the same as the previous ones, they contain two new provisions that endanger truckers and those they share the road with.

"We refuse to wait any longer for the government to rule on our challenge—we are stepping up the fight against these regulations that put Teamster drivers at greater risk," Teamsters President James Hoffa said in a statement.

According to a side-by-side comparison of the rules provided by the FMCSA, the new daily-hours-of-service provision remains the same as the 2003 rule. In addition, the agency declined to lower the number of hours a driver may work per week and it altered "short haul" rules. Drivers who do not need a commercial operator’s license could work fourteen hours a day for five days a week and sixteen-hour days twice a week, so long as they don’t stray more than 150 miles from their base of operations.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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This News Report originally appeared in the February 28, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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