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New rules to prevent truck driver fatigue take effect

In the children's story "Chicken Little," there was excessive concern that the sky was falling. The phrase has entered the lexicon as a synonym for undue apprehension.

To be sure, concern about impending calamitous change can be in good faith. But depending on the motivation of the speaker, it can also be an exercise in deliberate scare tactics.

Consider, for example, the response of some elements of the trucking industry to the new federal rules on hours-of-service (HOS) for drivers. In the San Antonio area and across the country, federal regulators are hopeful that the new rules will cut down on fatigued driving and therefore reduce the number of truck accidents.

The new rules, which take effect today, are the result of an extensive process of development. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) first proposed them in December 2011.

The new HOS rule carries over two key elements of the previous rule. Drivers are still limited to 11 hours driving in one day and 14 hours of work in one day.

But the new rule adds several key restrictions. The average maximum work week is now 70 hours, down from 82.

In addition, the "reset" period, which allows drivers who have driven more than average maximum number to resume driving, now requires a break of at least 34 hours. And that period must include at least two nights that cover the crucial sleep period of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

The new rules also require a 30-minute break for truck drivers in the first eight hours of work.

The trucking industry has 18 months to prepare for these new rules. But some voices in the industry now claim that the rules will undercut their business model. The claim is that the rules will making it harder to schedule truckers for shifts, resulting in diminished productivity and therefore a reduction in trucking capacity.

But even if the work week had to be reduced for some current drivers, independent analysts question why the needed capacity couldn't be found by hiring additional drivers. In other words, the sky is by no means falling on the trucking industry's business model, just because new HOS rules are in place.

Source: Fleet Owner, "HOS rules kick in, driving up fears of capacity crunch," Sean Kilcarr, July 1, 2013

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