In this June 13, 2019 photo, truck driver Terry Button looks over his trailer during at stop in Opal, Va. (Photo: AP)
The Trump administration has taken a step closer to relaxing federal regulations governing the amount of time truck drivers can spend behind the wheel, winning praise from the trucking industry and drawing scorn from highway safety advocates.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency of the Transportation Department, issued proposed changes on Wednesday to the “hours of service” rules that dictate breaks truckers are required to take, and their time on and off duty.
“It puts a little more power back in the hands of the drivers and motor carriers,” said Raymond Martinez, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Martinez said the agency listened to drivers and their call for safer and more flexible rules.
But highway safety groups have warned that putting the revisions into place would dangerously weaken the regulations.
The government “is offering flexibility without regard for the fact that these weakened rules could be exploited by the worst actors in the industry,” said Harry Adler, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition.
There were 4,657 large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2017, a 10% increase from the year before, according to a May report issued by the agency.
Trade groups that represented truck drivers and motor carriers have pushed for years for less rigid hours of service rules, arguing that the regulations were too rigid and out of step with the daily realties confronting most truck drivers. They found a supporter in President Donald Trump, who has made rolling back layers of regulatory oversight a priority.
The existing regulations limit long-haul truckers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour on-duty window. Drivers must have had 10 consecutive hours off duty before the on-duty clock starts anew. A driver who is going to be driving for more than eight hours must take a 30-minute off-duty break before hitting the eight-hour mark.
Under the proposed revisions, truckers could take a break while they are on duty but not driving. Drivers have complained that long waits for cargo to be loaded or unloaded keep them idle yet they are still required to take an off-duty break, even if they do not need to rest or cannot find suitable parking for a big rig.
The administration also is proposing to allow drivers to “pause” the 14-hour driving window for an off-duty break of up to three hours, provided the trucker still takes the 10 consecutive hours off duty at the end of the work shift.
The powerful American Trucking Associations, whose members include the nation’s largest motor carriers and truck manufacturing companies, said in a statement that the revisions maintain the “core principles” of the regulations.
A group representing independent truck drivers hailed the “common-sense approach” that will make it easier for truckers to avoid heavy traffic, bad weather and other adverse situations.
“Truckers have families and want to get home safely just like everyone else. They are the most knowledgeable, highway safety advocates and the agency’s proposal, overall, recognizes that fact,” said Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
The proposal will be open for public comment before being finalized.