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Cali Owings, Published August 16 2013

Local truck drivers not too happy with new federal rules

FARGO – After a national court battle, local truck drivers will start to feel the effects of new federal regulations that outline how much time drivers can spend on the road.

A series of changes first introduced in 2011 that regulate a driver’s “hours of service” went into effect July 1.

The new rules – developed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation – are aimed at curbing driver fatigue and the number of accidents and fatalities on U.S. roadways, but the industry has long said they’ll do more harm to businesses than good.

“They take our hours away from us,” said Jeremy Cusey, who drives for Andy Boe Trucking in Fargo. “But we still have to get just as much done.”

The changes reduce a driver’s workweek hours from 82 to about 70 on average. While drivers could previously take their required 34-hour break every six days, the changes now mandate that drivers can only restart once per week to prevent “excessive buildup of on-duty hours.” The break also must be taken over two consecutive nights between 1 and 5 a.m.

Another provision requires drivers to take a half hour break per eight hours of consecutive driving.

The 30-minute breaks alone will cut more than two hours from Cusey’s workweek, he said. With the changes, he said he’ll have to say no to jobs more often.

“Every time they [change the rules] it costs owner-operators money and small businesses money,” Cusey said.

The American Trucking Association challenged the DOT’s regulations, but the new rules were upheld in federal court earlier this month.

Now drivers and trucking companies will be forced to comply with most of the new rules.

“The decision has been made,” said Arik Spencer, executive vice president of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association. “The time to fight any regulations is over. The time to comply is now.”

The North Dakota Motor Carriers Association, which represents more than 300 member companies throughout the state, did not support the changes, Spencer said.

But now the association is providing resources and education to members on how to comply with the new rules. It sponsored a seminar earlier this summer for members to meet with representatives from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to explain the changes and answer questions about an individual company or driver’s circumstances.

The industry has claimed the changes will create $18 billion in additional costs for the trucking industry, while proponents of the new laws say healthier drivers and fewer crashes will save money.

Whether they agree with it, companies are “making sure drivers understand the need for compliance,” Spencer said.

The rules are meant to ensure drivers get enough sleep so they’re not likely to cause accidents.

Deaths in the transportation industry accounted for about a quarter of all occupational fatalities in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry is the eighth-most dangerous in terms of its on-the-job fatality rate per worker.

“The number one goal is to be safe,” Spencer said. “We want to make sure that the traveling public can share the road with our trucks in a very safe manner.”

Like other drivers, Cusey said he understands the safety concerns.

But he’s been driving since 2009 and said he’s always been able to find time to rest and prefers to set his own schedule.

“If we were making the rules for their workday, how would they feel about it?”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599