DOT Allows Many Truckers Delivering Fireworks for 4th of July to Extend Work Hours
by Katie Weatherford, 7/2/2014
Approximately 35 million Americans will travel on our nation’s highways between July 2 and July 6 for Independence Day festivities, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). Driving alongside them will be truckers hauling explosive fireworks to their destinations in time for Friday’s celebrations. But instead of bolstering public protections to ensure highway safety during one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has chosen to relax driving restrictions for truckers employed by more than 50 companies (see notices here and here) who will be transporting fireworks on heavily traveled roadways from June 28 to July 8.
Typically, truck drivers are not permitted to work shifts longer than 14 hours and may not drive for more than 11 hours during any shift. Before returning to duty, the driver must take a 10-hour break. However, under the temporary exemptions, a driver can deduct any amount of time spent on a break during the day from the 14-hour total, extending the length of a driver’s shift without triggering the 10-hour off-duty requirement.
Because drivers who deliver fireworks also typically set up the fireworks display at the event site, a driver may spend several hours preparing for the evening fireworks show. Under the existing standard, the time spent setting up the display and any down-time throughout the day would count toward the 14 hours allowed for a shift. Before the driver could proceed to his next destination, he would need to take a 10-hour break, which the industry claims is too costly.
Under the exemption, however, drivers who have already spent considerably long hours driving to an event site and setting up the fireworks displays may then return to their trucks and drive for several more hours before taking a mandatory 10-hour rest break. This means that that fatigued drivers will be permitted to travel on busy roadways this holiday weekend, imposing needless risks on millions of travelers.
Public safety concerns associated with truck driver fatigue were also recently raised with the Senate Appropriations Committee during debate over the FY 2015 transportation funding bill. The committee adopted an amendment to the funding bill that would suspend the FMCSA’s 2011 hours of service rule that went into effect last year and also require the agency to conduct further study on driver fatigue. The bill was reported out of committee on June 5 and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
The 2011 rule limits truck drivers to a maximum 70-hour average work week. The driver must then take 34 hours off (called the 34-hour restart), which must include two consecutive nights in which the trucker is not permitted to drive between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. The rule also requires that after eight hours on-duty, a driver must take a 30-minute break before continuing to drive.
Reverting to the 2003 rule, as the appropriations bill would require, would allow drivers to work up to 82 hours per week. It would also mean truckers could remain on-duty for up to 14 hours without being required to take a 30-minute break. Fortunately, the appropriations bill will not be enacted before July 4th and thus won’t add to the risks to motorists from the ‘fireworks exemption.’
For more information about concerns associated with exemptions to the Hours of Service (HOS) rule, visit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s website. You can also click here to read their most recent comment letter in opposition to these exemptions.
Editor’s Note (07/09/14): This article has been updated since its original publication on July 2, 2014.