August 9, 2000
U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today called on leaders from the trucking industry, labor unions and safety groups to gather together with the U.S. Department of Transportation to update the 60-year-old hours-of-service rule to help prevent truck and bus crashes involving fatigued drivers.
"Our purpose is to assure that drivers of trucks and buses have sufficient opportunity for rest so that we can reduce the number of fatalities that result from fatigue-related crashes," Secretary Slater said. "The purpose of these meetings will be to obtain information these groups may have so that we can incorporate it into our deliberations and thus continue our rulemaking process."
In phone calls today, Secretary Slater said he invited participants to provide in-depth information in three topic areas for three different "roundtables." The roundtables, each of which is expected to last two days, will be scheduled for September and October and will be hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Participants will be invited to join others at the table, based on comments they have already submitted or made at public hearings. The roundtable also will be open to members of the public.
The information collected during the roundtable discussions, in conjunction with findings from eight public hearings held around the country and other comments, will be evaluated as the department proceeds with the rulemaking process. The department has the option of issuing a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking.
The topics of these meetings will include the economic impact of revising the current hours-of-service safety standard, fatigue research and law enforcement; sleeper berth requirements, communication during rest periods, end-of-work week rest periods, and hours of work permitted each day; and categories of carrier operations, electronic on-board recorders, and exemptions.
The first meeting will be Sept. 25-26 at the National 4-H Center, 7100 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase, Md. The remaining meetings will be Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 5-6 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Road, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Secretary Slater also announced that the comment period on the hours-of-service rulemaking would be extended to Dec. 15, 2000. This is the second time the comment period has been extended in order to obtain the maximum input possible during the rulemaking process. The comment period, originally ending on July 31, 2000, was first extended to Oct. 30, 2000.
Secretary Slater reiterated his concern about language in pending Senate transportation funding bill which would halt all work on updating the hours-of-service rule. Secretary Slater said that the language is unnecessary and harmful as it would prevent the Department from moving forward on any meaningful reform.
There were 5,203 truck-related fatalities in 1999. About 800 each year are fatigue-related. The proposed rule would prevent an estimated 2,600 crashes, 115 fatalities and 2,995 serious injuries annually.
The Department, on April 25, 2000, proposed to improve highway safety by changing the current hours-of-service rule, which regulates the number of hours drivers of big trucks and buses can operate without resting. The current rule permits drivers to be behind the wheel for 10 hours and then rest for 8, or 16 hours out of a 24-hour day. This rule was written in 1935, modified in 1937 and revised in 1962 by the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission. Little has been done to update it since. In the meantime, the number of trucks and the vehicle miles they traveled have soared.
Comments on the April 25 proposal may be sent to the USDOT Docket Facility, Attn: Docket FMCSA-97-2350, 400 Seventh St., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590. The proposal may be viewed on the Internet after searching at http://dms.dot.gov/. Comments also may be submitted electronically at this site.
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