Rules to Live By; Op-Ed Statement from American Trucking Associations
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 -- The following op-ed was released by American Trucking Associations:
Rules to Live By
by Bill Graves
During a long and arduous Congressional highway reauthorization process, an opportunity was missed to continue improving highway safety and save lives on our nationís roads. As a result of the lack of codification of the 2004 federal driver hours-of-service rules into law as part of the multi-year $286.4 billion Highway bill, trucking officials and federal regulators are left uncertain about what might happen next to regulations that set driver work and rest hours for the entire industry.
The federal government established hours-of-service rules more than 60 years ago to set a national standard for driver work-day limits and minimum rest levels. In January 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration updated those rules at the behest of Congress to better align the rules with our current knowledge of sleep science. For our professional drivers, the rules mean safer highways. But the issue also is one that links driver fatigue, safety, security and the business of ďdelivering AmericaĒ on time and profitably.
To get to that point, the American Trucking Associations and the 37,000 motor carriers it represents aggressively and tirelessly advanced the hours-of-service issue before Congress, two presidential administrations, the courts and regulatory agencies. The campaign took 10 years, numerous public hearings and tens of thousands of public comments. Yet in a rush to complete this multi-billion dollar bill following 12 extensions that had the U.S. transportation system operating at 2003 funding levels more than halfway through 2005, evidence was ignored that the new rules are effective in improving safety on the nationís highways.
This came a year after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the federal governmentís new driver rules stating that FMCSA in developing the regulations failed to consider the impact of the rules on driver health -- a sentiment mistakenly put forward by some Washington advocacy groups.
Truckingís critics will hail the measure -- or lack thereof -- as a successful bid toward sidelining fatigued drivers. But itís too easy for critics to blame big rigs and long-haul drivers as the root cause of Americaís accident rate given prolific industry stereotypes. Statistics, not false perceptions, tell the real story. Research by FMCSA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that up to 75 percent of fatal car-truck accidents are not caused by trucks, but rather are initiated by non- commercial motor vehicle drivers. Eighteen months after the rules went into effect, an honest accounting of the facts is necessary.
The current rule -- which promotes a schedule closer to a 24- hour circadian rhythm -- cut the old work day from 15 cumulative hours to 14 consecutive hours, and limits driving time to 11 hours. Although driving time is increased by one hour, mandatory rest time was increased from eight to at least 10 hours. This is enough time, according to government and private industry fatigue experts, within which truck drivers can get recuperative rest each day. The new on-duty and off-duty requirements also promote a much more regular work-rest cycle for drivers.
The new rules not only are working, but they are superior to the old industry standard in terms of overall safety. They have been effective in improving safety on the nationís highways, providing for the health of drivers while also providing for the productive transport of the countryís cargo by the trucking industry.
According to a study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute, motor carriers in 2004 posted lower recordable accident rates and lower injury rates per million miles. The data, which represents over 100,000 drivers operating more than 10.5 billion fuel tax miles, showed recordable accidents per million miles fell to .68 in 2004 from .71 a year earlier. The total injury rate, meanwhile, declined to .94 injuries per million miles from 1.07 injuries per million miles in 2003.
Such safety benefits deserve to be heralded. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, with the support of the White House, pressed Congress to write the new rules into law to provide certainty in the regulations that since January 2004 have helped the industry improve its safety record. With the passage of reauthorization minus hours of service codification, FMCSA must now go back to the drawing board to recreate a rule that took eight years to write and is successfully serving its intended purpose.
Critics of the current federal mandate argue that FMCSA should create a third rule that would endow less daily driving time, less weekly work time and would prevent drivers from effectively managing their off-duty time. But introducing yet another rule is a difficult and dangerous proposition. Shifting gears at this stage would create chaos that ultimately reduces highway safety and costs motor carriers millions. Creating a third rule, for example, would force motor carriers to retrain millions of drivers. Overhauling the system also would force motor carriers and shippers to undo technological changes -- like altering software and dispatch technology -- they have made to accommodate the new convention. One of the nationís largest long-haul fleets said it would cost nearly $2 million to change its software and retrain drivers -- the same amount it invested to transition to the current rules in 2004. At the same time, a substantial disruption in the enforcement of the hours-of-service regulations would ensue if the rules are changed yet again.
Driver and public safety on the highway has been -- and will remain Ė a paramount issue of the trucking industry. The new hours-of-service rules are working and deserve to be made into law.
Bill Graves is President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and former two-term Governor of Kansas. ATA is the largest trucking industry trade group in the U.S, representing nearly 37,000 motor carriers through its federation of state associations and affiliated members.
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