WASHINGTON - Truckers can still spend six days on the road during the week and drive for 11 hours at a time, thanks to a rule the Bush administration decided to leave intact, even though truckers and safety advocates say it's unsafe.
For 60 years, truckers could drive for 10 consecutive hours. On Jan. 1, 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration changed the rule to allow them another hour behind the wheel.
A federal court, however, threw out the changes.
On Friday, the truck-safety agency announced that a revision to the rule would still allow the big rigs to roll for 11 hours, three hours more than safety advocates say they should.
The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said the Bush administration had simply repackaged an unsafe rule.
Studies show the risk of deadly crashes significantly rises after the 10th and 11th hours of driving, said Joan Claybrook, the president of the safety group Public Citizen.
"Trucks are going to continue to be rolling time bombs on the highway," Ms. Claybrook said. "So many drivers are tired, and that's what causes so many crashes."
More than a year ago, a federal court struck down the rule, saying it was "arbitrary and capricious" and failed to consider truckers' health.
The Bush administration was left to revise it.
Annette Sandberg, the chief of the truck-safety agency, said the new rule was designed to reduce the number of crashes caused by fatigued drivers.
"The research shows that this new rule will improve driver health and safety and the safety of our roadways," Ms. Sandberg said during a news conference.
She said the rule requires drivers to take at least 10 hours off between shifts, two more than before, and reduces the maximum work day from 15 hours to 14.
But Ms. Claybrook said drivers can drive 20 percent longer and spend 30 percent more time on duty under the new rule.