Hours of Service War is Over

"With one small exception, our decision today brings to an end much of the permanent warfare surrounding the HOS rules."

An Aug. 2 decision by a panel of three judges of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ended a decade of litigation over the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's revised hours of service rule. Throughout the process of conducting analyses and writing a series of final rules intended to set driving limits that would make commercial truckers less likely to be fatigued, FMCSA faced challenges that the rules went too far and also did not go far enough. In the end, the court's third decision on the rules left them intact, except the judges vacated the 30-minute break requirement for short-haul drivers.

Judge Janice Rogers Brown's opinion in American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, No. 12-1092, traced the rulemaking's entire history, starting in 2003 "with the promulgation of a final rule that increased the daily driving limit from 10 to 11 hours; reduced the daily on-duty limit from 15 to 14 hours; increased the daily off-duty requirement from 8 to 10 hours; and created a new exception to the weekly on-duty limit known as the 34-hour restart." Eight years later, the current final rule added a 30-minute off-duty break (barring truckers from driving past eight hours unless they have had an off-duty break of at least 30 minutes); directed that truckers may invoke the 34-hour restart only once every seven days; and, to ensure that drivers using the 34-hour restart have an opportunity to get two nights of rest, mandated that the restart include two blocks of time from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) argued the 30-minute break should not apply to short-haul drivers and won on only that point.

Brown concluded her opinion with these words: "With one small exception, our decision today brings to an end much of the permanent warfare surrounding the HOS rules. Though FMCSA won the day not on the strengths of its rulemaking prowess, but through an artless war of attrition, the controversies of this round are ended."

I hope she's correct, and early evidence indicates she may be: FMCSA announced Aug. 7 it would immediately cease enforcement of the 30-minute break against short-haul operations and asked state and local enforcement agencies to do likewise. "We're pleased that FMCSA is moving forward to provide swift, reasonable relief to drivers who operate locally," ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in response.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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