Drivers Hours of Service Rules, Now What?

The recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia did much more than strike down a portion of the truck drivers’ Hours of Service (HOS) rules which Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had promulgated in response to a previous court challenge. Should an appeal and/or a stay not be granted prior to September 14, no one is sure what would be the effect.

While agreeing with a group led by Public Citizen and Parents Against Tired Truckers about increased driving time and the 34 hour restart rule, the court rejected challenges to other provisions. This included requiring drivers’ on-duty time to be capped at 14 hours per day. The court also denied a petition filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s petition regarding the split sleeper berth time.

The court concluded that FMCSA violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it failed to give interested parties an opportunity to comment on the methodology of the crash-risk model that the agency used to justify an increase in the maximum number of daily and weekly hours that truck drivers may drive and work. The court also found that the agency failed to provide an explanation for critical elements of that methodology.

A spokesperson for the FMCSA said that the agency is still reviewing the court’s decision and has yet to determine a course of action including what they might do in the event a stay is not granted. Should the court refuse to issue a stay, only part of the rules would apply which would lead to consider confusion.

“It is possible that there would be no limit the hours a driver could drive as the court struck down the 11 hour limit. More likely, the FMCSA would have to take action to restore the old 10 hour rule,” said Steve Keppler, Director of Policy & Programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“It is interesting to note that the court did not say that the new hours of service are unsafe and during the first full year the rules were in effect, the number of truck crashes declined by 4.7 percent during 2006,” says Clayton Boyce, Vice President of Public Affairs for the American Trucking Associations. He adds that required rest period was expanded by two hours.

However, the carriers are preparing for any eventually, including the restoration of the old rules.
“We are planning and preparing for the possibility that the 11 hour day and the 34 hour restart will be gone and while we can’t forecast the future, we cannot wait to prepare,” says Don Osterberger, Vice President and Driver Training for Schneider National. He adds that there are significant changes which must be made to optimization software as well as driver retraining.
“Many of our current drivers have never driven under other than the current rules and would require retraining to deal with any possible changes,” said Osterberger.

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