drivingA new rule that limits the number of hours truckers can drive takes effect July 1st – but that’s not stopping the debate over it.

Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours-of-service rule, drivers will be able to drive 12 fewer hours per week and will be required to take regular 34-hour rest periods that include pre-dawn hours of two straight days, under the rule. The regulation will be enforced by random inspections.

The trucking industry -- represented by organizations like the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the National Industrial Transportation League, the National Shipper’s Strategic Transportation Council and the Truckload Carriers Association and the American Trucking Associations – has filed a suit with a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. to challenge the rule, saying it goes too far.

A coalition of safety groups including Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition have also filed a suit, saying the rule doesn’t go far enough.

The court is under no obligation to rule on the matter.

The trucking industry took its objections to Congress this week. In testimony Tuesday before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s panel on highways and transit, Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, said the FMCSA failed to show a need for the change.

“FMCSA’s motivation to change these rules was not based on evidence demonstrating a problem,” said Williams. “FMCSA’s three paragraph statement in the rulemaking called ‘The Purpose and Need for Regulatory Action’ did not cite any research or data analysis showing a problem. That speaks volumes.”

Williams cited a report produced by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) – an industry-funded organization -- that found “statistically significant” declines in the number of crashes under the basic framework of the current rules.

“The industry will lose operating flexibility and productivity, and the rules will increase driver stress and frustration,” he said, predicting a 1.5% to 4% reduction in productivity that would translate to “between $500 million and $1.4 billion in lost productivity.”

Public Citizen, meanwhile, contends that although the The Department of Transportation (DOT) has long acknowledged the role that fatigue plays in truck crashes, the DOT’s own fatality and crash databases “significantly understate the problem” because they’re based on police accident reports that rely on on-the-scene assessments of fatigue..

Driver fatigue was voted the No. 1safety concern at the FHWA 1995 Truck and Bus Safety Summit, involving more than200 drivers, motor carrier representatives, government officials, and safety advocates.

Williams called on Congress to postpone the July 1 effective date of these rules until the agency completes mandated research on the rule. He also asked Congress to request independent analysis of the regulation and to require FMCSA to report to Congress on any future changes to the hours-of-service rules.

Click here to read the Hours of Service of Drivers Final Rule.