Federal Court Upholds New HOS Regulations

by Jana Ritter - Published: 8/02/2013

Today. the U.S. Transportation Department regulations to ensure drivers get more rest were mostly upheld by a federal appeals court. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals in Washington rejected most of the arguments made by the American Trucking Associations Inc. as “highly technical points best left to the agency.”

Appeals court

While the court agreed to vacate a 30-minute rest requirement for short-haul truck drivers, the final rule maintained an 11-hour limit on truckers' driving day and a 34-hour rest period each week that would require drivers to be off two consecutive nights. An overall defeat for trucking companies that said the HOS rules would add cost without improving highway safety. Longer rest breaks and reworked freight networks may reduce productivity by 3 percent, translating into $18 billion in additional costs, according to freight data and forecasting firm FTR Associates.

 “With one small exception, our decision today brings an end to much of the permanent warfare” surrounding the fatigue rule, U.S. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown said in the decision. Brown was referring to 14 years of wrangling between the industry and regulators since Congress first mandated the regulation in 1999.

FMCSA said of the court's decision: “We are pleased with the court's decision to uphold the department's Hours of Service requirements for truck drivers. The ruling recognizes the sensible data-driven approach that was taken in crafting this important regulation to increase safety and reduce driver fatigue – a leading factor in truck crashes. The ruling also provides added certainty for all affected, moving forward. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is reviewing the court's opinion and will soon take additional action, as needed, for its full implementation.”

Obviously the ruling got a different, yet somewhat hopeful reaction from the ATA, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and safety advocates. “While we are disappointed the court chose to give unlimited deference to the FMCSA's agenda-driving rulemaking, the striking down of the short-haul break provision is an important victory,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs.

“The court recognized on numerous occasions the shortcomings of the agency's deliberations, so despite upholding most of the rule, we hope this opinion will serve as a warning to FMCSA not to rely on similarly unsubstantiated rulemakings in the future. One thing this rulemaking makes clear is that fatigue is a small problem when viewed through a crash-causation lens. ATA hopes FMCSA will work with the trucking industry to address more pressing safety and driver behavior issues, including those than can be directly affected through proven traffic enforcement activities aimed at unsafe operating behaviors.”

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer also commented on today's outcome. “As far as Hours of Service, we have long believed that drivers need flexibility to do their jobs safely. That hasn't changed. But the court's decision has put the issue to bed for now,” he said. “That being said, hopefully we can now move on to addressing the biggest safety gap in the trucking industry and that's the lack of basic training standards for new drivers.”