Cars Service Regulations

By: Patricia Woloch

George W. Bush's executive branch has taken it upon itself to rewrite the laws of the land by arbitrarily revising guidelines and simply choosing not to enforce some laws. Through the appointment of a pro-corporate judiciary, the administration also seeks to expose people to a whole new class of dangerous medical equipment and pharmaceuticals without any possibility of recompense simply because the FDA signed off on a mass of fabricated data ghostwritten by corporate executives and published under the name of unscrupulous scientists. And what has gone on in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) with the revision of the Hours of Service (HoS) rules is no exception, and has probably been responsible for a dramatic increase in accidents since the new rules went into effect in 2003. In 2002, Connecticut saw a record low number of fatal crashes involving large trucks, the product of a slow decline since 1991. However, since then the annual number of fatal crashes has nearly doubled, with 32 fatal crashes in 2006 (2007 data is "not available"), according to FMCSA's Motor Carrier Management Information System. What makes this story even more alarming is that the rules are illegal. They were found in two separate court cases to be violations of established procedure and to represent an unreasonable danger to other motorists. HoS Background The HoS rule was established in 1937 in response to fears that fatigued truckers might be dangerous drivers. This fear was apparently well-founded, because even today, driver fatigue is cited as a significant factor in 30-40 % of all heavy truck crashes, according to the . The original rule was that drivers could not drive more than 10 hours a day, and must have at least 8 hours of rest between driving shifts, and could not drive more than 60 hours in a week.

The new guidelines, written in response to heavy lobbying pressure by a number of trucking lobbyist groups, allow drivers to drive for 11 hours after 10 hours of rest, with no restriction based on 24-hour days. Ostensibly, these new rules maintain that there has been no increase in the allowable maximum hours driven in 7 days, still technically limited to 60. However, the rules allow a driver to reset his weekly clock by resting for 34 hours, which effectively means that a driver can fit in as many as 77 hours of driving in 7 days, and 88 in 8 days. Furthermore, the rules do not restrict drivers from using their so-called "rest hours" to perform other work such as loading and unloading trucks. Disputed Rules In response to the new rules, the organization Public Citizen brought a case against the FMCSA in opposition to the changes. This case was heard and decided in 2004 by the United States Appellate Court in Washington, D.C, with the court deciding that the FMCSA's decision-making process has been "arbitrary and capricious" because it rejected the results of its own report that stressed the need for drivers to have a 24-hour day cycle to minimize fatigue and should have a weekend of between 32-56 hours each week, including two consecutive periods from 12 am to 6 am (when most fatigue-related crashes occur). The court also reminded the FMCSA of the charge in its founding document, which states that the agency"Shall consider the assignment and maintenance of safety as its highest priority, recognizing the clear intent, encouragement, and dedication of Congress to the furtherance of the highest degree of safety in motor carrier transportation." In other words, safety is the FMCSA's job. Not the promotion of interstate commerce. Not the protection of small truckers against larger trucking companies. Not keeping transportation costs low. The FMCSA was established to make trucking safe. Then the FMCSA issued new rules in 2005 which were almost exactly identical to the 2003 rules, and again they were taken to court. In support of its new rules, the same as the old rules, the FMCSA issued a regulatory impact analysis concluding that the economic costs of tightening the rules outweighed the safety benefits. Then in July 2007, the court struck down the new rules, again reminding the agency that its job is safety. However, the court allowed the dangerous rules to stay in effect during the process of appeals. Now, the rules remain in effect, and we continue to see a rise in fatal crashes as a result. What You Can Do Trucking companies are happy to make money any way they can, and seem unconcerned if it is blood money. With the illegal rules still in effect, it seems that it will take legislative action to stop the runaway actions of the executive branch, which means that it can be years before we see relief, if ever. You can encourage the process by contacting your Congressmen. In the meantime, the only way to make trucking companies take responsibility for the danger they pose to other drivers is to make it unprofitable to endanger people. If they have to pay dearly for every life, they will no longer be able to write off deaths on their balance sheets.

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