WASHINGTON - The Obama administrations backs granting truckers more rest, but in the mean time is contemplating whether drivers should spend lesser hours each day hauling.
For the first time in more than 60 years, the Transportation Department on Thursday came up with a new regulation that it hopes will close the curtain on a years-long effort to revise driver rules.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement: "We are committed to an hours-of-service rule that will help create an environment where commercial truck drivers are rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job."
The American Trucking Associations trade group, representing the trucking industry, believed that the planned revisions were exceedingly complicated, would decrease industry output, and would be "enormously expensive for trucking and the economy."
FedEx Corp, UPS Inc, and YRC Worldwide are some of the large companies covered by the rule.
The fear of trucking companies is that any cut back in hours would result to increase in costs.
The bone of contention orbits around the maximum time a driver can spend behind the wheel each day and the duration of "off duty" time.
Presently, the rule permits a daily driving maximum of 11 hours and a 34-hour gap between the end of one week and the start of another.
The Transportation Department gives it support on a 10-hour daily limit, however is still asking for public opinion on whether 11 hours would be tolerable if other rest requirements were available. The work day could not go beyond 14 hours, which includes a break lasting for one hour.
The latest proposal would continue the 34-hour "restart" agreement however drivers could only utilize it once in a seven-day period and off-duty times would take place during night time hours.
Robert W Baird & Co analyst, Jon Langenfeld, believes the proposal would add complication to the regulation. But he said a 10-hour daily driving margin, if approved, could decrease trucking capacity by 1 percent to 2 percent, which he thinks is a significant impact.
Langenfeld said in a note to clients, the proposal's near-term impact on shares is limited.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, casualties in large truck accidents plummeted 20 percent from 2008 to 2009 to 3,380. NHTSA data showed, about 7 percent of all U.S. highway fatalities and about 1.4 percent of deadly truck collisions due to fatigue, were made up by big rigs.
The Bush administration's attempt in passing a proposal to increase hours were favorably challenged in court by labor and consumer groups saying the administration did not bear in mind the impact of a longer work day on driver health.
July 2011 is the date a new rule must be in place according to federal appeals court.
The previous proposals to change driver rest rules are being opposed and leading it is the Teamsters union, which represents more than 100,000 long haul truckers.