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Obama Administration Settles Hours-of-Service Case, Agrees to Start Over on Rule to Keep Tired Truckers Off the Roads

Oct. 27, 2009

Obama Administration Settles Hours-of-Service Case, Agrees to Start Over on Rule to Keep Tired Truckers Off the Roads

Court Repeatedly Tossed Out Bad Rule, But Bush Administration Kept Reissuing It

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have agreed to abandon their defense of unsafe, longer working hour standards for truckers the Bush administration issued in 2003. In a settlement of a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the agencies agreed to start a new round of rulemaking that could result in reduced hours of service for truckers.

In March 2009, the groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to throw out the hours-of-service rule for the third time. Twice before, in 2004 and 2007, the court vacated the rule on the grounds that the government did not adequately consider the effects of longer hours on traffic safety and driver health. Nevertheless, the Bush administration reissued the same rule each time.

The rule dramatically expanded driving and working hours by allowing truck drivers to drive up to 11 consecutive hours (instead of 10) each shift and by cutting the off-duty rest and recovery time at the end of the week from a full weekend of 50 or more hours to as little as 34 hours.

As a result, the rule allowed truckers to spend up to 17 more hours driving each week than previously allowed, a more than 25 percent increase over the prior rule, despite strong evidence that the increased hours would lead to more traffic fatalities and serious consequences for driver health. Today’s settlement requires the government to draft a new proposed rule governing hours of service within nine months and to publish a final rule within 21 months.

“We are pleased that the government has decided to take seriously its responsibility to protect truck drivers and the public from unsafe driving conditions instead of bending to the interests of the trucking industry,” said Greg Beck, the Public Citizen lawyer handling the case.

Added Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, “Every day, truck drivers fall asleep in their cabs, and all too frequently the results are catastrophic. Unfortunately, these incidents and crashes don’t garner the same government attention and action as airline ilot fatigue. The DOT needs to reform the hours-of-service rule for truck drivers because longer operating and working hours have serious health and safety consequences for workers and the public.”

Said Daphne Izer, co-founder, Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), whose son and three friends were killed in 1993 in a crash caused by a tired trucker, “The good news is that there will be a new hours-of-service rule that hopefully will protect truck drivers and families like mine. The bad news is that the Obama administration nominee to lead the federal agency responsible for issuing this new rule is a trucking industry lobbyist. This nomination puts the trucking industry in the driver’s seat and will detour any meaningful and overdue reforms.”

Joan Claybrook, former president of Public Citizen and chair of the board of directors of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, said, “There is a reason that the truck driving profession is often referred to as ‘sweatshops on wheels.’ The Bush administration rule increasing truck driver hours of service was one of the worst anti-worker and anti-safety regulations issued these past eight years.  It is time for the DOT to issue a rule that advances safety interests and not the economic interests of the industry.”

“We will continue to push for a rule that protects trucks drivers instead of the greed of the trucking industry,” said Jim Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “Longer hours behind the wheels are dangerous for our members and the driving public.”