HOS Rules Changes Here to Stay

August 12, 2013

Since July 1, when new truck driver hours of service rules went into affect, truckers have been holding their collective breaths hoping that a petition by trucking interests to the courts would change the rules back.

Those hopes were dashed when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited ruling on the most recent revisions in the hours-of-service rules; striking down a provision requiring short-haul drivers to take 30-minute off-duty break, but leaving the bulk of the rule unchanged.

While the 30-minute, off-duty break requirement for short-haul drivers was vacated, the court upheld the most controversial aspects of the new rules, the limitations on the use of the 34-hour restart, and the requirement that the 30-minute driving break be free of all on-duty activity.

The American Trucking Assns. had challenged the rules saying they are seriously flawed.

However, even though the court identified several of these flaws, it declined to "second guess" the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's methodologies and interpretations of the evidence, instead taking a "highly deferential" approach to the agency's presumed expertise, concluding that "FMCSA won the day not through the strengths of its rulemaking prowess," but rather through "an artless war of attrition."

The court's ruling brought some good news for truckers, though. The court found no merit in the challenge of the coalition of special interest groups that have repeatedly fought to make driver hours rules even more restrictive, concluding it "would have been unreasonable and unfounded on the record" to reduce the driving day from 11 to 10 hours. The court also summarily rejected the groups' call to eliminate the restart altogether.

"While we are disappointed the Court chose to give unlimited deference to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration'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 (FMCSA'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 rule makings in the future," Osiecki said. "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."

The nation's largest association representing professional truckers, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, OOIDA, said it hopes the final decision from the court on hours-of-service regulations means the industry, Congress and agencies will proactively take on the issue of driver training. That issue has been ignored for far too long.

"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," said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. "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."

OOIDA says that its recently launched safety agenda, "Truckers for Safety," will prepare the next generation of long-haul truckers and address other highway safety concerns. More details can be found on the campaign website http://www.truckersforsafety.com/

"Better trained drivers mean safer drivers," said Spencer. "An experienced career trucker is the type that people want to share the road with, and training should be the biggest focus of highway safety efforts."

Current regulations do not include training requirements for becoming a long-haul truck driver, despite a 1986 recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board and congressional directive for such standards dating as far back as the 1990s, Spenser points out. While new drivers must pass a CDL test, testing covers only basic operations and does not address the many on-the-road demands faced by truckers or the hundreds of regulations they are responsible for following.

The agenda spelled out in the campaign points out that the more experienced career truckers with safe driving records are often replaced by new drivers with no experience or training — who are again replaced by newer drivers a few months later when they leave the industry. The campaign includes not only an agenda for basic training, but also provisions for improving infrastructure, truck parking, passenger vehicle driver education, and enforcement efforts that encourage safe driving.

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