The Trump administration eased rules Thursday that limit working hours for truck drivers, and the changes brought immediate protests from labor and safety groups.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration extended the maximum working day for short-haul drivers from 12 hours to 14 hours and expanded how far they can drive in a day. The agency said this will let truckers make more deliveries.
For long-haul drivers, the regulator will let work other than driving — such as loading or unloading, filling out paperwork, or communicating with an employer or customer — count toward a mandatory 30-minute break after eight hours of driving. Currently drivers must go off-duty during breaks.
The current limit of 11 hours of driving time in a work day was unchanged.
The agency said the new rules will save trucking companies more than $2.8 billion over 10 years. The agency's acting administrator, Jim Mullen, said the changes “will improve safety on America’s roadways and strengthen the nation’s motor carrier industry.”
Labor leaders and safety advocates argued that a longer working day will lead to more fatigued drivers and more crashes even if the number of hours spent behind the wheel remains the same.
“Truck crash deaths are on the rise. We already know that truck driving is one of the most dangerous jobs and that fatigue is a known problem within the industry,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. She said the motor carrier agency’s changes “significantly eroded the minimum protections that existed for truck drivers.”
According to government figures released in March, 4,951 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks in 2018, up nearly 1% over 2017. Nearly three-fourths of those killed were in other vehicles.
Teamsters President James P. Hoffa called the regulator's actions a giveaway to trucking companies that will force some of his union's drivers to work 14 hours a day without a federally guaranteed break.
Republicans on the House Transportation Committee praised the Trump administration’s actions.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., said the change in working hours “won’t increase driving time, but they recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach does not give drivers the necessary flexibility to make the right decisions to safely operate their vehicles.”
Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said drivers have carried food to grocery stores and delivered other goods during the coronavirus outbreak, and the changes will provide flexibility while maintaining road safety.
The changes are scheduled to take effect in September.
They will not only lengthen the on-duty day for short-haul drivers, they will more than double the square miles that they can cover, up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) from their home base.
The agency's proposal to change duty hours, unveiled in 2018, drew nearly 2,900 public comments.