Saturday, July 17, 2004

Truckers' driving time cut back

Court tosses new rules allowing an extra hour on the road

By Leslie Miller
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A federal court Friday threw out new government rules extending the amount of time that commercial truckers can drive between breaks.

The rules, issued in December, allowed truckers to stay on the road for up to 11 straight hours, one more hour than they had been allowed. But they also required drivers to take at least 10 hours off between shifts, two more than before.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia wrote that the rules changes were "arbitrary and capricious." The three-judge panel said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency that imposed the rules, failed to consider "drivers' health in the slightest," as required by law.

The court, in a 3-0 ruling, was acting on a suit brought by Public Citizen and highway safety groups. The American Trucking Associations joined the FMCSA in arguing for the new rules.

The government argued the new rules would make the roads safer because truckers would have to rest two more hours between shifts.

The Transportation Department estimated the change would reduce deaths resulting from truck driver fatigue from 440 to 335 a year.

But safety groups and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said that allowing a trucker an extra hour behind the wheel would cause more accidents, not fewer.

They pointed to studies showing that the risk of crashes rises geometrically after the 10th and 11th hour of driving.

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said she was "ecstatic" about the victory.

"The agency is constantly thinking about the industry," Claybrook said. "Finally the court said the statute requires the protection of the public highways and drivers' health."

Claybrook said close to 800 truck drivers die in crashes every year.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokesman Bill MacLeod said the agency was assessing the impact of the ruling.

"We recognize that the rule is an important safety tool," MacLeod said.

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