The Trump administration proposed a change to highway safety regulations involving commercial truck drivers. The proposal comes through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the Transportation Department. It said last week that the changed will affect the “hours of service” rules that truck drivers must follow regarding shift length and required breaks.
Drivers and owners in the trucking industry praised the proposed changes. They say the changes keep the intention of the old rules but give drivers some discretion. But the announcement drew scorn from some highway safety advocates. They contend that loosened restrictions could be abused by drivers in a rush to finalize a delivery—and result in too-tired drivers operating the very large and powerful rigs.
Raymond Martinez is the head of the FMCSA. He says the agency listened to drivers, who asked for safer andmore flexible rules that fit the reality of the motor carrier industry’s operations. For instance, under the current regulations, drivers are required to take 10 consecutive hours off duty before starting a 14-hour shift. Additionally, within each eight hours on shift, the driver must take a 30-minute break.
When a driver clocks in, his shift time begins. But he may stand around for a half hour or more while his truck is being loaded. That wait time does not currently count as a break—even though he may very well be resting during it. The changes would allow the driver to count that downtime under certain circumstances—so that he would not be required to rest again until a more necessary point.
Harry Adler, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, says that’s too much freedom. He thinks the government “is offering flexibility without regard for the fact that these weakened rules could be exploited. . . .”
The American Trucking Associations, whose members include the nation’s largest motor carriers and truck manufacturing companies, said in a statement that the revisions maintain the “core principles” of the regulations. And all drivers would still be required to take the consecutive 10-hour break between driving shifts. That allows for a solid night’s sleep every day.
The concerns about safety are valid. There were 4,657 big rigs involved in fatal crashes in 2017. That’s a 10% increase from the year before, according to a May report. But truckers have as much incentive to be safe as anyone else on the road.
“Truckers have families and want to get home safely just like everyone else,” says Todd Spencer. He is president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. Spencer supports the changes, which he and other operators call, “common sense.”
The proposal will be open for public comment before being finalized.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. — Philippians 2:3-4
(Truck driver Terry Button takes a break at a stop in Opal, Virginia. AP Photo)