HOS: Zero Hour Is Almost Upon Us

April 24, 2013

If you're still hanging on the hope the feds will delay implementing new truck driver hours of service regulations or have just procrastinated preparing for the change, it may be time to get a move on. As it stands now, drivers will need to be ready to comply in just a few short weeks.

Their have been requests by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and even members of Congress to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asking them to await determinations on court cases pending that challenge the rules before beginning enforcement. A bipartisan group of lawmakers who oversee transportation programs wrote a letter asking that the federal government delay enforcement of its latest changes to the hours-of-service rules until three months after a federal appeals court issues its decision on challenges to the changes. "Delaying the July 1 effective date of the rule is the most responsible course of action to take, given the uncertainty of where the court will come down," said the letter to Anne Ferro, FMCSA administrator. Ferro, however, is holding strong to the July 1 start date. ATA has challenged the rules in court; particularly the 34-hour restart provision and forced mandatory rest breaks. ATA's challenge of the rule changes is supported by the National Industrial Transportation League, the Truckload Carriers Assn., the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. and the National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council as well as by another 15 organizations representing shippers or the business community in general.

According to ATA, FMCSA's changes would put "onerous restrictions" on drivers' ability to effectively manage their schedules by limiting the use of a restart period to once every seven days as well as "inflexibly mandating" off-duty breaks during the workday. The trucking association contends that these changes were not supported by the data available and should be rejected. "The existing rules have a proven track record, and the agency's purported reasons for tinkering with them were baseless," ATA general counsel Prasad Sharma said in arguments it made before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently. "We're hopeful the judges will see through the agency's mere pleas for deference and after-the-fact explanations for a rule that was agenda-driven rather than evidence-based." The heart of ATA's challenge rests in FMCSA's limitations on the restart (limiting it to once per week and requiring that it span two consecutive 1am-5am periods); to the requirement that the mandatory 30-minute break within 8 hours of starting a duty period be completely off-duty (rather than just a break from driving); and the unannounced application of the break requirement to local delivery drivers. Public Citizen has also challenged the rule in court, asking that driving hours be made even shorter. ATA contends that safety advocacy groups that are fighting to make the rules even more restrictive can't back up their arguments with facts. "Despite Public Citizen's arguments, neither the law nor the data support Public Citizen's contention that FMCSA was obliged to make the hours-of-service regulations more onerous than they are. Nothing they said today [before the court panel] changed that," Sharma said. The trucking lobby is hoping for a swift decision by the court "to save the industry and enforcement community the expense of preparing for a rule that might never go into effect." And those costs are no small matter. Based on the FMCSA's estimate of the time necessary to train drivers on the new rule, along with software reprogramming and related transition costs, the ATA pegs the cost of implementation at $320 million. However, there's no deadline for when the appellate court must rule and FMCSA says it still plans to begin enforcement of the rule change on July 1. There's a good chance a ruling from the court won't arrive before the enforcement date. The situation leaves truckers in a quandary: Do they wait, hoping for a favorable court ruling on ATA's challenge of the rules before the July 1 compliance date? Or, do they take on training and implementation costs that could be negated if the regulations are overturned? It's now reaching the point where waiting any longer to begin training could place a trucking company in a bigger bind: no time left to adequately bring their staff and drivers up to speed on how to comply, thus risking costly violations that will negatively impact CSA scores.

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