The Transportation Department, in response to a federal court decision, is again requiring trucking companies to provide detailed records of every trip that keeps the driver away from his home base for 12 hours or more.
These records, known for years as "drivers' logs," were streamlined in 1982, increasing the trips exempted from any record-keeping requirement and decreasing the amount of information provided. That decision, saving drivers and companies some time, was frequently cited as a contribution to the administration's drive to reduce paper work.
Critics charged that the result was a threat to safety, however, or at least to the government's ability to police trucking companies and ensure that drivers did not stay on the road longer than they were supposed to.
Last June 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a Teamsters Union challenge of the relaxed restrictions.
The court ruled that "the agency has failed to demonstrate that it engaged in a reasoned decision-making or that it had any basis at all for its decision to omit . . . seven items of information and expand the exemption from the record-keeping requirement."
Neill Thomas, chief of the development branch of the department's Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety, said his bureau felt that the information deleted in 1982 -- including the day's total mileage, the name of the co-driver and the total hours on the road, the shipping document and the destination or turnaround points in the journey -- was duplicative.
Thomas added that the department is accepting comments on the rule until Jan. 18, even though it became final Nov. 23. "It's a final rule, but if we get comments in that are strongly supported by evidence, we'll open it up again. If nobody comments or says leave it alone, we'll leave it alone," he said.
The most likely area for another change, he said, is the so-called "12-hour rule." Before the 1982 change, trips sending drivers away from the base for 12 hours or more had to be logged; in 1982, the cutoff point was raised to 15 hours.
"There are indications that industry is strongly opposed" to the 12-hour rule, Thomas said. "They have been saying, 'It's putting a curb on our operations and not doing anything for us and it is hindering us and there's no impact on safety either way.'"