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Advocates Fear New Rule Will Keep Tired Truckers on the Road

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"What happened to my family was not an accident. It was a violent crash. ... It was a crash caused by a fatigued truck driver," Hamm says of the 1995 accident in North Carolina.

Veteran trucker John Harris told the group that he was laid off after he complained to management about the toll fatigue was taking on his performance. "Unfit carriers [are] out there right now, more than I can tell you about, hauling fuel," he said.

The protestors? situation is complicated by the fact that they favor parts of the new rule, including its emphasis on mandatory rest periods within a 24-hour cycle for drivers. The old rule stipulates a maximum of 10 hours on with eight hours off; the new rule simply allows a maximum of 12 hours on the road within each 24-hour period. The safety advocates also back the on-board recorders that would replace the frequently ignored log books in place now.

Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater has met with families and advocacy groups to discuss the proposals several times, but so far he?s been unwilling to budge on the proposed new rule. But Slater has just announced that the comment period for the rule will be extended another 90 days, until the fall.

Even so, DOT spokesman Mike Longo says the opponents misunderstand the rule. He says it actually reduces the time a driver is on the road. That?s because under the current system, in the "worst-case scenario" a trucker could work 20 hours out of a 28-hour period. Under the new system, a driver could only work up to 12 hours in a day.

"After the 12th hour there?s a huge fatigue increase," Longo tells WebMD. " We?re trying to come up with not only a safe rule, which is number one, but also one that will work in today?s economy."

Parts of the rule are also under challenge by the trucking industry, and the changes could be tied up in the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee indefinitely.

"We think the number of crashes would actually go up, when [the Department of Transportation believes] the number of crashes would come down," says David Osiecki, vice president for safety and operations of the American Trucking Association. "We base that on the fact that more trucks and more drivers in the industry are operating during daylight hours."

 

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