Bloomberg News

U.S. Reins in $1 Billion Truck Rules After Industry Backlash

December 23, 2011

(Updates with industry comments starting in 13th paragraph.)

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s administration maintained an 11-hour limit on truck drivers’ hours today, scaling back a proposal to give them more rest.

The U.S. Transportation Department’s proposed rule to reduce the daily driving limit to 10 hours was one of seven regulations the Obama administration said would cost companies at least $1 billion. Trucking companies opposed it, saying the shorter hours would force them to rework routes and hire more drivers.

Consumer groups were “keenly” aware of the industry’s lobbying in the year since the Obama administration proposed the 10-hour day, said Henry Jasny, vice president of Washington- based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

“This is a breach of promise of making safety the No. 1 goal of the agency and the Transportation Department,” Jasny said in a telephone interview today. “It’s more than disappointing.”

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican had said the industry already had reduced driver fatalities and couldn’t afford additional personnel.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety will continue to pursue a 10-hour rule, and may take the issue to court, Jasny said. The debate over the revision of driving-time regulations that originated in the 1930s dates back to the creation of the FMCSA in 1999.

Costs, Benefits

The final regulation, which takes effect July 1, 2013, has annual costs of about $470 million and benefits of around $630 million, the Transportation Department said in a statement today.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration failed to “definitively demonstrate” that the proposed 10-hour limit would carry “higher net benefits” than the current 11 hours, according to the rule.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget met with industry groups at least four times in October and November, according to the agency’s website.

The American Trucking Associations and the International Foodservice Distributors Association came in October. The Food Marketing Institute, the American Bakers Association, the Snack Food Association and McKee Foods Corp. met with OMB in November. The White House met with safety groups and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters once in October. A Nov. 28 meeting on the hours-of-service rules doesn’t list participants.

Less Severe

While the regulation retained other changes opposed by the industry, it also made some less severe than initially proposed. For example, drivers must get at least two weekly rest periods spanning 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., the Transportation Department, which oversees the FMCSA, said. The proposal was for two rest periods of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.

The inclusion of that new requirement was the biggest objection for industry groups.

The scientific research on the need for two consecutive overnight rest periods isn’t conclusive, said Bill Graves, chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations. The change is going to ensure that trucks flood onto the roads during morning rush hours, he said, adding that the trucking industry will consider a court challenge.

‘Weaker Legs’

“It was one of the weaker legs they had to stand on,” Graves said. “We’re still wrestling with why we spent such extensive resources of this federal agency on this issue while not pursuing issues we know will have a much more significant impact.”

A mandatory 30-minute rest break came after seven consecutive hours of driving in the proposed rule. The final version pushed that back to eight hours.

The rule reduces a driver’s maximum possible work week by 12 hours to 70 hours, the Transportation Department said.

The changes will cause shipping costs to increase for companies like Target Corp. and Best Buy Co., said Kelly Kolb, vice president for government relations at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group.

“Supply chain optimization is the bread and butter of America’s most successful retailers,” Kolb said in an e-mailed statement. “The new hours-of-service rule will upend the advances in efficiency made over the past decade.”

Violations, Fines

Companies and drivers committing “egregious violations” of fatigue rules will face penalties, the Transportation Department said. Companies that allow drivers to exceed the 11- hour driving limit by 3 or more hours could be fined $11,000 per offense. Drivers face penalties of $2,750 for each offense.

“Trucking is a difficult job, and a big rig can be deadly when a driver is tired and overworked,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an e-mailed statement.

Regulators weighed industry costs against billions of dollars in health-care savings and reduced accidents in a profession that has more on-the-job deaths than any other in the U.S.

There were 3,675 truck-related fatalities in 2010, up 8.7 percent from 3,380 in 2009, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As recently as 2006, there were 5,027 fatalities.

Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy of a truck driver is 61, or 16 years less than the U.S. average, LaHood wrote in a September 2010 blog posting, citing Centers for Disease Control data. Trucking is the most dangerous profession in on-the-job fatalities, and the eighth-most dangerous in deaths per worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A related $2 billion safety requirement to add electronic data recorders to monitor truckers’ hours that is opposed by independent drivers is still under consideration. That regulation isn’t opposed by the biggest trucking companies, which already have bought the equipment.

Safety groups said they were disappointed that the Obama administration didn’t take the driving-time limits down to 10 hours.

“I don’t know what it is going to take for the government to get real about protecting us on our roads,” Daphne Izer, a co-founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers whose son Jeff and three other teenagers were killed in a 1993 crash, said in an e- mailed statement.

--Editors: Andrea Snyder, Bernard Kohn

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net


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