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Hours-of-service limits for truckers: new rules in place at last

New federal rules to tighten hours-of-service limits for truckers in order to prevent fatigued driving are finally in effect. A year and a half ago, in December 2011, federal regulators proposed more restrictive rules. After 18 months for trucking companies to adapt to them, the rules took effect today.

In the Sacramento area and across the country, the hope is that the new limits will cut down on the chronic problem of overtired truckers who are at undue risk of causing truck accidents. The new rules should also health the overall health of truck drivers by preventing the constant fatigue that can compromise drivers' health.

The lead federal agency on implementing the rules is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). FMCSA's administrator, Anne S. Ferro, is straightforward in stating their purpose. The new hours-of-service rules, she says, are "fatigue-fighting" rules.

The new rules have several different components. One of the most basic is a reduction in the maximum average number of hours in a truck driver's work week. The maximum average is coming down to 70 hours per week from the previous maximum limit of 82.

To be sure, even under the new rules, it will be possible for drivers who have reached 70 hours in a week to resume driving if they take a rest break of the required length. But that break must be for at least 34 consecutive hours and it must include at least two nights.

Moreover, the rule is clear about what qualifies as a "night." For hours-of-service restart purposes, it covers the period from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., when human body clocks are most in need of sleep under normal diurnal rhythms.

In addition, the new rules require drivers to take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of a driving shift. 

In short, the new rules impose new restrictions on the length of time truck drivers' can be on the road. There are two parts of the new rules that are carried over from the old one. These are the limits of 11 hours of driving per day and 14 hours of work per day. But, as described above, there are also new restrictions.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, "New Hours-of-Service Safety Regulations to Reduce Truck Driver Fatigue Begin Today," July 1, 1013

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