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FMCSA Must Reject Unsafe Hours of Service Exemption for Oil Tank Truck Drivers

Tom Yager
Chief, FMCSA Driver and Carrier Operations Division
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC  20590–0001

RE:     Hours of Service of Drivers: National Tank Truck Carriers; Application for Exemption
            Docket No. FMCSA–2017–0270

Dear Mr.Yager:

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), I am pleased to provide comments on the National Tank Truck Carriers, Inc. (NTTC) application for exemption from rest break regulations. By way of background, TTD consists of 32 affiliate unions across all modes of transportation, including both commercial motor vehicle drivers subject to FMCSA’s hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, and emergency personnel who respond in the event of an accident involving a CMV. We therefore have a vested interested in the rulemaking. [1]

In its application, NTCC requests exemption from the requirement that drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) obtain a 30-minute rest break if the driver has been on duty for 8 hours. The exemption would allow carriers the ability to deny drivers engaged in the transportation of petroleum-based fuels their mandated 30-minute rest break. NTTC states that scheduled stops along a tank truck driver’s routes in which they attend the hazardous materials load instead of operating the vehicle should be considered a valid substitute for a 30-minute rest break, as time spent attending the load is “restful”.
TTD strongly opposes NTTC’s application, and believes that NTTC has failed to demonstrate that granting the exemption would achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or greater than, that of current rest break regulations. As FMCSA has correctly identified, fatigue is one of the greatest dangers facing CMV drivers. To ameliorate some of this risk, FMCSA has mandated that drivers partake in a rest break during long shifts, a common sense regulation with demonstrated positive safety results. That policy should not be abrogated in this case.

NTTC argues that when a tank truck driver attends a load at a scheduled stop and is not driving, this constitutes a rest. We disagree that any period in which a driver is performing job duties can be considered restful. The purpose of the 30-minute break is to allow a driver to be relieved of all tasks, so that the driver may relax and relieve stress. This in turn allows the driver to return to the wheel better rested and alert, reducing the chances of an accident. In fact, it has been found that in CMV drivers, stress responses and other negative health outcomes can be aggravated by not being provided adequate resting times during trips. [2] Also, we specifically reject NTTC’s claim that the act of unloading petroleum products is a restful activity. When offloading, a driver must maintain focus to ensure that that the petroleum is safely offloaded. This includes monitoring equipment, preventing intentional or unintentional interference from the public, and being prepared to mitigate a spill. Even though the driver is not operating the vehicle, these on-duty responsibilities are clearly far from restful.

Further, NTTC perversely claims that a driver seeking out a suitable parking space to take their rest break, and the associated “additional movement of the CMV” increases the risk of a crash. We note that FMCSA has not found licensed drivers searching for parking to be a contributing factor in truck accidents, but has identified fatigue as the cause of approximately 13% of all accidents involving a large truck. NTTC also neglects to provide any evidence of increased risk associated with drivers seeking out a safe rest area. Denying a driver the opportunity to rest in order to save him or her the effort of looking for parking clearly fails to meet the requirement that the exemption provide a greater or equal level of safety.

NTTC also argues that 49 CFR 177.800(d)), which requires that “shipments of hazardous materials must be transported without unnecessary delay, from and including the time of commencement of the loading of the hazardous material until its final unloading at destination”, is a justification for tank truck drivers not receiving the 30-minute break. Defining a needed rest break as an “unnecessary delay” is inconsistent with both the spirit of the regulation and common sense. Allowing a driver the chance to rest so that they may be more alert and therefore less likely to cause an accident cannot possibly be considered an “unnecessary delay”, particularly when it comes to the sensitive nature of shipping hazardous materials.

In addition to posing an untenable risk to both tank truck drivers and other drivers who share the roadway, the exemption needlessly puts emergency personnel who respond to accidents in harm’s way. Efforts to mitigate the potentially destructive impacts of an accident involving hazardous materials, including firefighting and clean up, are inherently dangerous. By increasing the chances of accidents caused by fatigue, this application also increases threats to individuals tasked with these duties. To this point, we strongly endorse the comments filed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, a TTD affiliated union.

Finally, we understand that FMCSA has granted exemptions from the 30-minute rest break in the past, based on acute dangers or risks in certain industries. In this case, the only clear danger is the one caused by taking away rest breaks from fatigued drivers. NTTC has failed to make a compelling case that this exemption would provide equal or greater safety than compliance with HOS regulations, and for that reason TTD urges FMCSA to reject NTTC’s application. We thank FMCSA for consideration of our comments.

[1] Attached is a complete list of TTD’s 32 affiliate unions.

[2] Sluiter JK, Van der Beek AJ, Frings-Dresen MH. Work Stress and Recovery Measured by Urinary Catecholamines and Cortisol Excretion in Long Distance Coach Drivers. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 55, No. 6, June 1998, pp. 407-413.

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