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30 Minute Rest Break Requirement During 11-hour Truck Driving Shift Creates Controversy

As usual when there are efforts to combat fatigue-related hazards in the trucking industry, there has been a lot of controversy about a change in the hours of service for trucks issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. As a trucking personal injury attorney in Atlanta, over the years I have watched several rounds of the tug of war between safety and profitability on hours of service rules.

The newest regulation states large trucks will have to stick to a schedule that requires taking a 30 minute break in the first eight hours of driving and cut the maximum work week to 70 hours from 82. There also is a rule that those 70 hours must be “restarted” after a 34-hour break once a week.

Personally, I think a 30 minute break during a driving shift makes sense. Whenever I drive long distances, I have to take pit stops, sometimes take a “power nap” before driving on. I have heard truck drivers complain that they are penalized under the current rule and under their companies’ policies if they take a rest break in order to be able to combat fatigue and drive safely costs them both money and criticism. The new rule requires that the trucking companies, brokers, and shippers make more allowance for human physiology.

Predictably, some in the industry object. Lyndon Finney, editor of The Trucker, a publication of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) says that productivity slowdown will directly impact businesses of all sizes especially with the mandatory 30-minute breaks.

“By the time a driver pulls off an interstate, finds a parking space, gets parked, waits the 30 minutes, and gets back on the road again, 45 minutes to an hour has likely passed. That means losing around 45-50 miles a day, multiply that by five or six, that’s 300 miles and for drivers paid by the mile, the financial implications are huge,” said Finney.

These new regulations are part of a program by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to make U.S. highways safer by reducing the number of truck accidents and fatalities. The program also includes Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) rating system that shippers can review when they choose a new carrier, with the goal of prodding the trucking industry to further improve the safety of its drivers and equipment.

But some in the trucking industry say the adjustment to hours of service rules , regulations will hurt consumers more than help their safety. Dave Osiecki, vice president for safety policy at American Trucking Association says that transitional costs to implement these rules are about $320 million. And while some say that this will help overall safety on the highways in the long run, Osiecki sees the costs on consumers as being steep. “This is just another cost that companies have to absorb, and those costs will be passed along to consumers. Small trucking companies might have a hard time absorbing these costs,” said Osiecki.

The Industry advocates also claim that it’s already doing a good job of reducing collisions, and that government data supports that position. The number of people killed each year in large truck crashes has fallen by almost 30 percent, to nearly 4,000 in 2011 from 5,282 in 2000, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. But selected statistics can be found to support any position, and any set of data can reflect multiple factors, not necessarily proving causation. I have not done a full statistical analysis, but decrease in the amount of truck traffic due to decreased demand during the recession would account for fewer crashes in years of decrased traffic. I have heard unconfirmed predictions that data for 2012, when published, will show an uptick in truck crashes with the beginnings of economic recovery, and that data for 2013 will be higher still as truck traffic continues to increase.

Most truck drivers are careful and conscientious, even though their work environment has been called a “sweatshop on wheels.” Trucking is a complex business with a low profit margin, and I have had friendly conversations with safety managers of large trucking fleets about their struggles to juggle the many factors involved.

But it is a betrayal of the trust we place in the industry when safety is sacrificed for profit. The rest break rule helps to protect the conscientious, safety conscious truck drivers and companies from unfair competition by those who would always choose to sacrifice safety for profits.

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