May 14, 2020 / 3:24 PM / 21 days ago

U.S. eases rules for truck drivers, allowing longer work day

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department on Thursday published new rules for truck drivers that will allow short-haul drivers to work a longer day and revising rules for longer trips, saying the changes will save the industry $2.8 billion over 10 years.

FILE PHOTO: Two freight trucks are driven on the Fisher freeway in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. March 27, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

Safety advocates criticized the change, saying it would lead to more fatigue-related crashes.

The Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said the changes include lengthening the maximum on-duty period for short-haul drivers from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit from 100 air miles to 150 air miles. The current limit of 11 hours of driving time is unchanged, but the longer work day applies to the time needed for stops such as deliveries.

The decision, which takes effect this fall, could give a boost to online shopping deliveries.

While some Democrats in Congress and labor unions opposed the changes to short-haul driving, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee praised the rule. The Transportation Department said it did not believe the data supported the contention that crashes would increase.

“Expanding the workday from 12 to 14 hours may result in more deliveries than were possible within a 100 air-mile radius, but total driving time will usually continue to fall short of the 11-hour limit,” the FMCSA said.

The U.S. trucking industry employs more than 7 million people and moves 70% of U.S. domestic freight.

The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert Sumwalt, told the FMCSA last year the agency had “presented no evidence that the proposed changes will improve highway safety. ... We understand that drivers and motor carriers value flexibility; however, the proposed rules allow hazardous fatigued-driving conditions.”

In 2018, 4,951 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks. The U.S. government said last week it estimates large-truck crash deaths increased 1% last year even as overall deaths fell 1.2%.

The president of the Teamsters union, James P. Hoffa, was sharply critical of the new rule. “Allowing truck drivers to work longer and longer each day puts everyone on the roads at risk,” he said in a statement. Expanding short-haul exemptions for local delivery and waste drivers “would allow drivers to work 14 hours a day without a single federally protected break during their day,” he said.

The new rules will also allow long-haul truck drivers to take a required 30-minute break using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status. During off-duty status, truckers may not perform any work, while during on-duty, not driving status they may perform paperwork. The new rules will allow drivers to split a required 10 hours off duty into two periods, and extend by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted during adverse driving conditions.

Short-haul drivers do not need to take a 30-minute break.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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