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Trucker Hours-of-Service Rule Reconsidered

WASHINGTON (CN) - After being sued twice during the George W. Bush Administration and again in March, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is planning to fully reconsider the hours-of-service rules for commercial truck drivers, which were initially instituted to curb crashes caused by driver fatigue.

The rules allow a trucker to put in 11-hour days with a "weekend" of 34 hours before the work week starts again. "It allows them to drive as many as 77 hours in seven days or 88 hours in eight days, over 25 percent more than previously," according to Public Citizen Litigation Group, a consumer advocacy group and petitioner in all three actions.

The first two hours-of-service regulations, issued in 2003 and 2005, were thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Reasons the court vacated the rules include that FMCSA had failed to consider the impact of the rule's longer driving and working hours on the health of truck drivers, which is required by federal law, that the justification for the increase from 10 to 11 consecutive hours of driving was missing "critical elements," and that the 34-hour restart was not justified at all.

The most recent rule, issued as a "midnight regulation," just before President Bush left office, "fails to correct the failures of the previous rules which were rejected by the courts," according to a statement on Public Citizen's Web site.

This time, the parties have agreed to halt the suit pending the agency's publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The final rule is to be published July 2011, under the agreement.

The agency will hold three public meetings to collect comments and jump-start the process.

Comment issues are expected to include a 14-hour on-duty limitation, the amount of time that is appropriate for "restorative sleep," whether automated and tamper-proof driver hours recording devices should be installed in trucks, whether shippers or receivers have changed practices to limit waiting periods for loading and unloading, and in what way team operations may be treated differently.

The sessions are to be held in the Washington, D.C. area, Los Angeles, and Dallas, with the first meeting being Jan. 19. The agency plans to transcribe all comments and include them in the rulemaking docket.

The other petitioning parties in the latest challenge are The Teamsters, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition. Bonnie Robin-Vergeer and Brian Wolfman represent Public Citizen, and Henry Jasny represents Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, in the current action.

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