Christmas came early for the powerful trucking industry in the form of a rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Big trucking companies got their wish when federal regulators kept existing limits on drivers’ hours in effect, rather than endorsing a court order sought by consumer advocates that would have required one less hour behind the wheel each day. The interim final rule issued by the FMCSA maintains the current 11-hour driving limit, under which truckers are required to rest for 10 hours. That is a terrible decision and one that puts motorists on U.S. highways at risk.

In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit delayed until December 27th a requirement that would reduce the continuous driving limit to 10 hours with eight hours of rest. The agency claims its data show that the number of crashes involving fatigued drivers has remained constant in recent years, and that crashes in the 11th hour of driving have been negligible. Consumer advocates sued to reduce the amount of time truckers can stay behind the wheel continuously because they say the industry is putting the public at risk. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, who had led the fight for safety on the nation’s highways, observed:

FMCSA is continuing the sweatshop conditions for truck drivers rolling down our highways, which endanger Americans all over the country.

The Teamsters Union agreed with Public Citizen and in a statement said there has been no peer-reviewed study published that shows the new rule is safer than the previous one. Concerning the government’s cave-in to the trucking industry lobbyists, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa stated:

It’s clear the Bush administration has more loyalty to its corporate supporters than to the men and women who actually drive on our roads.

The FMCSA contends all rules are based first on safety, and claims that the rule is good for safety. American Trucking Association President and Chief Executive Bill Graves was one of those who pushed the agency to maintain the 11-hour limit. The public has 60 days to comment on the interim final rule. Public Citizen opposed any stays, arguing that the FMCSA used the same tactic two years ago to maintain the old requirements. Unfortunately, their plea fell on deaf ears.

If the Administration ultimately issues a final rule inconsistent with the court order, Public Citizen says it will pursue further legal action. In September, the government and the trucking association requested the court issue longer stays of its decision. FMCSA backed industry claims that reducing the limit would be expensive and require it to retrain drivers and operating personnel, reprint logs, reengineer routes, and make other changes. ATA members include United Parcel Service Inc., FedEx Corp., JB Hunt Transport Services Inc., and YRC Worldwide.

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