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Backlash blunts bid for tighter truck rules

President Obama's administration maintained an 11-hour limit on truck drivers' hours Thursday, scaling back a proposal to give them more rest.

The Transportation Department's proposed rule to reduce the daily driving limit to 10 hours was one of seven regulations the Obama administration said would cost companies at least $1 billion. Trucking companies opposed it, saying the shorter hours would force them to rework routes and hire more drivers.

Consumer groups were "keenly" aware of the industry's lobbying in the year since the Obama administration proposed the 10-hour day, said Henry Jasny, vice president of Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

"This is a breach of promise of making safety the No. 1 goal of the agency and the Transportation Department," Jasny said in a telephone interview. "It's more than disappointing."

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., had said the industry already had reduced driver fatalities and couldn't afford more personnel.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety will continue to pursue a 10-hour rule and may take the issue to court, Jasny said. The debate over the revision of driving-time regulations that originated in the 1930s dates from the creation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, in 1999.

The final regulation, which takes effect July 1, 2013, has annual costs of about $470 million and benefits of about $630 million, the Transportation Department said.

The FMCSA failed to "definitively demonstrate" that the proposed 10-hour limit would carry "higher net benefits" than the current 11 hours, according to the rule.

The White House Office of Management and Budget met with industry groups at least four times in October and November, according to the agency's website.

The American Trucking Associations and the International Foodservice Distributors Association came in October. The Food Marketing Institute, the American Bakers Association, the Snack Food Association and McKee Foods Corp. met with OMB in November. The White House met with safety groups and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters once in October. A Nov. 28 meeting on the hours-of-service rules doesn't list participants.

While the regulation retained other changes opposed by the industry, it also made some less severe. For example, drivers must get at least two weekly rest periods spanning 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., according to the Transportation Department, which oversees the FMCSA. The proposal was for two rest periods of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.

A mandatory 30-minute rest break came after seven consecutive hours of driving in the proposal. The final version pushed that back to eight hours.

The rule reduces a driver's maximum possible workweek by 12 hours, to 70 hours, the Transportation Department said.

Companies and drivers committing "egregious violations" of fatigue rules will face penalties, the department said. Companies that allow drivers to exceed the 11-hour driving limit by 3 or more hours could be fined $11,000 per offense. Drivers face penalties of $2,750 for each offense.

"Trucking is a difficult job, and a big rig can be deadly when a driver is tired and overworked," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an email statement.

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