Here are the changes the agency is proposing:
* Consider the possibility of limiting daily driving time to 10 hours rather than the current 11 hours. The agency said it favors a 10-hour limit but is looking for comments and data on the issue.
* Drivers would have to be released from duty after 14 consecutive hours, rather than have the current option of continuing on duty but not drive. All drivers would have the option of taking two 16-hour shifts a week but would have to be released from duty afterwards. Any on-duty time after 14 hours would be counted as a 16-hour shift.
* Give drivers a one-hour break during the day by limiting actual duty time within the 14-hour driving window to 13 hours.
* Limit consecutive time behind the wheel by prohibiting a driver from driving if it has been more than 7 hours since his last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes.
* Modify the 34-hour restart: it would have to include two periods between midnight and 6 a.m., and it could be used only once a week.
* Change the definition of on-duty time from any time in the truck, except the sleeper berth, to exempt any time spent resting in a parked truck and up to two hours in the passenger seat of a moving truck immediately before or after eight hours in a sleeper berth.
* The oilfield operations exception would be revised to clarify the language on waiting time and to state that waiting time would not be included in the calculation of the driving window.
Other key components of the rule would not change: drivers would still have to take off 10 consecutive hours per day, the weekly limits for on-duty hours would stay at 60 in 7 days and 70 in 8 days.
The sleeper berth requirement for at least 8 consecutive hours in the berth and 2 hours either in the berth or off duty would remain the same, but the changes proposed for driving, on-duty time and duty-period limits would apply.
It remains to be seen if these changes will end the litigation and attendant uncertainty that has vexed the industry and the enforcement community since the current rules took effect in 2004.
The agency took on this rewrite attempt in order to address issues raised in several successive suits brought against the rule by Public Citizen and the Teamsters union.
Trucking Industry Reaction
American Trucking Associations' reaction was quick and highly negative.
The proposal is "overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking's productivity," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves in a statement.
The statement signals the concerns that ATA will no doubt address in comments on the rule. It says, for example, that the proposal disregards the negative safety impacts the proposed changes will have.
"FMCSA previously found that the 11th hour of driving time does not increase driver weekly hours; is used for flexibility purposes; does not increase driver fatigue risks; and that eliminating it would promote more aggressive driving and lead to placing tens of thousands of less experienced drivers on the road who would pose greater crash risks," the association said.
ATA has geared up to challenge the proposal by establishing a web site: www.safedriverhours.com.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is still studying the proposal.
"We are carefully analyzing the proposal, but I can tell you that to make additional safety gains, the next hours-of-service rule must be more flexible to allow drivers to sleep when tired and to work when rested," said Executive Vice President Todd Spencer in a statement. "The rules must encourage truck drivers to get off the road when they are tired and must not penalize them for doing so."
More info: FMCSA HOS Proposal
Corrected 12/27/2010 10 p.m. EST to clarify the 14/16 hour day information.