DOT officials say that the rule, announced April 25, represents the first major rewrite of federal trucking "hours of service" requirements since the rule was issued in 1939. The new rule allows truckers to drive 11 hours, up from 10 hours now. But it also requires drivers to take 10 hours off after their stint behind the wheel, up from the current standard of eight hours off-duty.

The new rule also keeps the current requirement that truck drivers may not drive after 70 hours behind the wheel in a period of eight consecutive days. But it permits truckers to "restart the clock" for that eight-day period if the driver has been off-duty for at least 34 straight hours.

The DOT regulation retains construction truck drivers' current exemption from the "restart the clock" requirement. Construction truckers will continue to be able to restart their 70-hour weekly on-duty time after they rest for 24 consecutive hours. That exemption was instituted in a 1995 law.

For the Associated General Contractors, "the key…was retaining our 24-hour reset, special provision for construction," says Brian Deery, senior director of the group's highway and transportation division. He says that keeping that provision "makes the rules much…easier to comply with."

Deery adds, "We're glad that they extended the driving time an hour," though DOT didn't adopt AGC's proposal to increase the time still further, to 12 hours.

The new DOT rule takes effect on Jan. 4, 2004. In 2002, there were an estimated 4,902 truck-related traffic deaths in the U.S. The department estimates it will save as many as 75 lives and prevent up to 1,326 fatigue-related accidents a year. There are approximately 500,000 motor carriers and 3 million to 5 million commercial drivers in the U.S., a DOT official says.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters attacked the regulation. Union President James P. Hoffa said, "These new rules from the DOT will only increase drive fatigue, and we know that fatigue creates danger on the highways."

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Ellen Engelman called the rule "an important step toward addressing fatigue on our nation's highways."

fter years of review, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has issued a new regulation that changes the limits for how many hours truck drivers may be behind the wheel, but the regulation maintains an existing exemption for construction drivers.