Interim Hours Rule Puts FMCSA's Limits in Place

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration today issued an interim final rule allowing commercial motor vehicle drivers up to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour, non-extendable window from the start of their work day, following 10 consecutive hours off duty (11-hour limit). The rule takes effect Dec. 27 and permits motor carriers and drivers to restart calculations of the weekly on-duty time limits after the driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off duty. FMCSA said the rule "is necessary to prevent disruption to enforcement and compliance" with the hours of service (HOS) rules when a federal court's stay of the rules expires.

"This IFR will ensure that a familiar and uniform set of national rules governs motor carrier transportation, while FMCSA gathers public comments on all aspects of this interim final rule, conducts peer review of our analysis, and considers the appropriate final rule that addresses the issues identified by the Court. FMCSA is fully committed to issuing a final rule in 2008," the agency stated in the rule. Comments are being accepted until Feb. 15 (identify Federal Docket Management System Number FMCSA-2004-19608 at www.regulations.gov).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has blocked the rules from taking effect. "It is important to note that the D.C. Circuit found fault with various procedures related to the Agency's adoption of the 11-hour limit and the 34-hour restart, but not with their substance," FMCSA said in today's rule. Having analyzed its stance after the latest court decision, "We found that the 2005 rule has maintained highway safety outcomes while enhancing operational flexibility for the motor carrier industry. Every alternative, including immediate restoration of a 10-hour driving limit with no 34-hour restart, entails a risk of disrupting that achievement," the agency stated. To respond to the court's decision, "we need to issue an IFR, with an opportunity for public comment, to ensure there will not be a patchwork of laws across the nation -- with some states enforcing a 10-hour limit while others enforce no limit, and still others retained the 2005 limits -- without a clear general understanding of what federal regulation is in place. Undoubtedly, this would create confusion, inconsistency, and have an unpredictable impact on safety, since law enforcement may reduce its enforcement as a result of varying state laws."

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