September 23, 2005

Groups challenge new rest rules for truckers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Safety, consumer groups and unions
on Friday challenged revised government rest rules for
truckers, saying the Bush administration had put economic
considerations over safety.

In a regulatory filing, the interest group Advocates for
Highway and Auto Safety and other organizations asked the
Transportation Department to reconsider the measure, which was
rewritten after a federal appeals court struck down the first
rule last year.

The rules were struck down following a lawsuit led by
consumer group Public Citizen. The judges ruled that the
government did not consider the health impact on drivers in
issuing the 2003 initiative, which was the first comprehensive
update to trucker rest rules in 60 years.

The revision, which was completed last month, was largely
unchanged from the original, although transportation officials
said they considered a wide range of information on fatigue and
health in their update.

Unchanged core provisions would allow truckers to drive 11
consecutive hours, limit shifts to 14 hours and prevent drivers
from operating rigs more than 70 hours over eight days.

The new rule is scheduled to take effect October 1.

Opponents want a rule that more closely follows the body's
natural sleep and wake cycles. They oppose the government's
decision to allow truckers to drive 11 hours a day. The old
provision allowed just 10 hours.

More than 5 percent of fatal truck crashes are caused by
fatigue, safety figures show. Fatalities from large truck
crashes increased slightly to an estimated 5,169 in 2004 from
4,986 in 2003, federal crash statistics show.

In Friday's appeal, safety and consumer advocates asserted
trucking regulators misused scientific evidence by relying only
on health and other scientific data that supported its view.

The groups say the agency attempts to show that the safety
effects of driving 11 straight hours are relatively minor and
are outweighed by productivity benefits.

A Transportation Department spokesman could not immediately
be reached for comment. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta
said in August that the new rules would keep drivers healthy
and help reduce fatigue-related crashes.