Courts Hours of Service Ruling Hits Carriers

Under attack since they were issued in 2005, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruled unanimously that the current maximum number of driving hours of 11 per day should be reduced to 10 hours per day. It also ruled that the present 34-hour restart at any point in a driver’s 7- or 8-day cycle should be eliminate, with only 70 hours of work permitted in any 8-day period.

In its ruling, the Court found that the governmental body issuing Hours of Service regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had ignored its own study about truck accidents that were said to indicate fatigue-related accidents are more likely to occur under the extra hours of driving allowed under the new rules.

The altered rules are not scheduled to go into effect until September 14. For the moment, the 2005 rules are still in effect. In the time between now and the September deadline, challenges to the Court’s ruling will be filed. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) “believe the existing rules have proven to be a significant improvement over the old rules in terms of reducing driver fatigue and related incidents,” says ATA president, Bill Graves. “Motor carrier experience and the FMCSA data dramatically illustrate this. ATA plans to provide additional real-world documentation of the effectiveness of the current rules.”

For its part, the FMCSA has said, “We are analyzing the decision issued today to understand the court’s findings as well as determine the agency’s next steps to prevent driver fatigue, ensure safe and efficient motor carrier operations and save lives. This decision does not go into effect until September 14, unless the court orders otherwise.”

Groups that had advocated such a change in the current Hours of Service rules were reported to include Public Citizen, Parents Against Tired Truckers, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, among others.

One prominent company to be greatly effected by the ruling is truckload carrier Schneider National. It has issued a position paper in which it states: “If the ruling becomes effective, the trucking industry and shippers will face a potential loss of productivity. It appears that whatever productivity losses occur will be more pronounced among less than truckload carriers than truckload carriers. In the truckload segment, highly engineered movements may be more susceptible to reduced productivity than random over the road shipments.

“We are hopeful that the FMCSA will be allowed to correct the procedural deficiencies noted by the Court and maintain the current regulations. Although it is certainly not clear that the Court will do so, we are nevertheless hopeful that the Court will suspend its ruling prior to September. This would allow the FMCSA time to revisit the regulations in a fashion, which avoids putting the industry and shipping community through yet another round of changes, and the costs associated with them.

Schneider will work with the American Trucking Associations, shipper groups and other interested parties to provide to FMCSA whatever data they may require in connection with their reexamination of the rules. We will work with customers to minimize the impact of any changes, which may become effective.”

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