(Dec. 30) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The trucking industry can breathe a little easier now. But just a little.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said it will emphasize education and issue warnings during the first 60 days of the new hours-of-service regulations.

The rules went into effect Jan. 4, but the department issued a news release beforehand urging enforcement agencies to phase in their enforcement of the regulations, thus giving drivers and companies alike a better chance to understand the rules.

Transportation secretary Norman Mineta said in a statement that the decision is meant to ensure long-term compliance and understanding of the rules.

“We are finding that too many truckers still have questions about these rules,” Mineta said. “It’s our version of on-the-job training for drivers who aren’t sure how or whether the new safety rules apply to them.”

WARNINGS INSTEAD OF CITATIONS

Mineta said states are being urged to issue warnings instead of citations to all but the most flagrant violators of the rules. He said enforcers are being asked to use every stop as an opportunity to educate drivers about the rules.

Education efforts will be coordinated by inspectors from the safety administration from regional offices around the country.

ATA REACTION

The American Trucking Associations, Alexandria, Va., expressed approval for the decision. In mid-December, ATA president Bill Graves wrote a letter to Stephen Campbell, president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a group that represents many state enforcement agencies, urging restraint in enforcing the rule during its opening days.

“The uncertainty and, in some cases, confusion and concern in the industry … over guidance in recent technical changes, interpretations and enforcement policy documents makes soft enforcement in the first several months of implementation a very reasonable and appropriate approach,” Graves wrote.

Mineta said the administration has answered thousands of questions from drivers and employers already and is making a concerted effort to get the details about the rules to all operators in a timely manner.

“We want to do whatever we can to make certain everyone is aware and ready to comply as soon as possible,” he said.

To that end, the administration is offering detailed information about the changes on its Web site, www.fmcsa.dot.gov. In addition, a 24-hour toll-free information line went into operation on Dec. 29. The number is (800) 598-5664.