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New rules for truck drivers take effect

New federal regulations designed to reduce trucker fatigue and improve roadway safety took effect Monday despite industry opposition and an advocacy group suing, saying that the rules don't go far enough to address driver fatigue.

The new regulations reduce the maximum average workweek for truck drivers from 82 to 70 hours and require them to take at least one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

According to a release from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the new regulations are expected to save 19 lives and prevent 1,400 crashes each year while also generating $280 million in savings from fewer crashes and $470 million from the improved health of drivers.

The new hours-of-service rule was originally announced by the administration in December 2011 following a series of lawsuits from Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that re-filed its ongoing lawsuit over the hours-of-service rule in February 2012. Trucking companies were given 18 months to phase in the rules and train drivers about the new rules.

"We support about 90 percent of these new regulations," said Sean McNally, spokesman for American Trucking Associations.

The most contentious component of the law is a modification to the existing "restart provision," which had allowed truckers to reset their weekly work clocks if they took a work break of 34 hours or longer. Under the new rules, the provision can be used only once per week, and must include two periods of rest from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Trucking groups claim that new rules -- especially changes to the restart provision -- will adversely affect productivity and efficiency and increase the burden on public motorists.

"We're talking about an industry that's 24/7," said Kendra Adams, executive director of the New York State Motor Truck Association in Albany. "This means more drivers and more trucks doing the same work. This puts more truckers back on the road at 5 or 6 a.m., at peak congestion hours."

"We're going to see an industrywide decreases in productivity of 2 to 3 percent and losses of around $500 million," McNally said, citing a study conducted by banker Wells Fargo. "We don't believe the positive safety impacts justify the costs."

The restart provision was instituted in 2004 under the Bush administration. It has long been a source of frustration among highway-safety advocates.

Using it, truckers can surpass federal hour limits and may become excessively fatigued as a result, said Scott Nelson, lead attorney on hours-of-service litigation for Public Citizen.

"These regulations represent very mild improvements," said Scott Nelson, lead attorney on hours-of-service litigation for Public Citizen. Nelson and his colleagues are seeking to eliminate the restart provision and return to a 10-hour limit on workday driving. That limit was increased to 11 hours by the Bush administration in 2004.

The motor carrier administration estimates 15 percent of truck drivers will see a change in their schedule as a result of the new rules.

"I wouldn't call this progress," Nelson said. "They're making the old rules less bad."

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