WASHINGTON — Propane companies have failed to convince federal regulators that loosening work rules for their truck drivers could be accomplished without jeopardizing safety.

The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last year for a five-year exemption to daily and weekly hours-of-service regulations, saying that would help propane haulers serve residential, commercial and agricultural consumers during peak demand periods.

After analyzing the organization’s application and the public comments that followed, however, FMCSA stated in a notice to be published on Wednesday that approving the exemption “would not achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved” without the exemption.

Specifically, NPGA asked FMCSA to allow haulers of propane the flexibility to extend the daily 14-hour driving window to 17 hours and the driving limit within that window from 11 hours to 14. The exemption would have limited the number of consecutive days a driver could use it, and drivers would have had to conclude with an off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours, as required under the current maximum drive-time rules.

The group explained in its application that in advance of emergency conditions — both natural and manmade — the propane industry “experiences significant increases” in consumer demand, with a resulting increase in deliveries to bulk storage facilities and retail consumers.

“As a result of these needs, long- and short-haul drivers often reach the maximum operating limits … within three or four days,” according to NPGA. “Subsequently, operations experience reductions in available drivers while consumer demand continues.”

Several groups weighed in to oppose the request, including the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

CVSA said FMCSA should find a more restrictive way to allow propane carriers to respond to peak demand, such as giving local FMCSA service centers the authority to “monitor needs and coordinate with industry to provide region specific waivers as appropriate. … Allowing the FMCSA service centers to manage temporary waivers would enable the agency to provide the necessary relief without creating a broad exemption.”

OOIDA warned that loosening work-hour restrictions for propane carriers could lead to greater coercion of company drivers, “with propane providers applying pressure to complete hauls while drivers are fatigued.”

In addition, OOIDA contended the exemption could force short-haul drivers who are currently exempt from the ELD mandate to comply with the regulation because of their extended driving hours.

“While equipping and training these drivers to use an ELD is certainly possible, we believe these complications point to the need to provide broader HOS and ELD flexibility, rather than creating a patchwork of industry or even commodity-specific regulations and exceptions,” OOIDA stated.

In denying the exemption, FMCSA noted that the application lacks an analysis of the safety impacts as well as countermeasures to ensure that the exemption would not diminish safety.

“Research studies demonstrate that long work hours contribute to driver fatigue and can cause harm to a driver’s health,” FMCSA stated. “Research also shows that crash risk increases with long work hours.”

FMCSA said that while NPGA provided a list of conditions for which the exemption would apply, including excessive rail car delays and storm-related events, “the agency does not find a categorical exemption for the scenarios requested is appropriate.”

Related articles:

FMCSA rejects work-rule exemption for livestock haulers

FMCSA’s hours-of-service exemption implicated in fatal truck crash

FMCSA tries to clarify policy on hours-of-service exemption requests

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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