FMCSA to reconsider hours rules

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has decided to conduct another rulemaking regarding hours-of-service regulations as part of an Oct. 26 settlement with groups challenging the current regulations.

A federal appeals court has twice rejected hours rules FMCSA has implemented since January 2004, and several groups have been challenging the current regulations for allowing 11 hours of driving per shift and a 34-hour restart of cumulative on-duty limits. The agreement with Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters places a hold on that litigation pending the completion of a rulemaking on driver hours of service.

Under the terms of the settlement, FMCSA must begin a new rulemaking process and submit a notice of proposed rulemaking to the Office of Management and Budget within nine months. The agency will have another 12 months to issue a final rule. Meanwhile, the current rules will remain in effect.

“Safety is our highest priority at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and so we believe that starting over and developing a rule that can help save lives is the smart thing to do,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The American Trucking Associations said it looks forward to participating in the upcoming rulemaking process to further demonstrate how the current hours rules are working and why they should be maintained.

“The current rules have been proven safe over the last five years,” said Clayton Boyce, ATA vice president of public affairs. “The crash rate, injury rate and fatality rate are all at historic lows. The science is on the side of the current hours-of-service rules.”

ATA noted that U.S. DOT figures show that the trucking industry is the safest it has been since DOT began keeping crash statistics in 1975. Truck-involved fatalities have dropped by 19 percent since the new rules took effect, and the number of injuries has decreased by 13 percent since 2004, ATA says. Over that period, the number of registered trucks has risen by hundreds of thousands, while the number of miles driven by large trucks increased by more than 2 billion miles.

The settlement came one day before FMCSA was to file its brief in the litigation over the hours rules. That filing was originally due on Oct. 13, but the agency sought and got an extension in part on the grounds that there was no permanent FMCSA administrator to make recommendations to the Justice Department on the conduct of the lawsuit.

The same parties who were suing FMCSA over the hours rules had objected to the nomination of Anne Ferro to be FMCSA administrator due to her support for the current regulations. Coincidentally or not, the Senate Commerce Committee approved Ferro’s nomination one day after FMCSA agreed to reconsider those regulations.

In 2003, the agency adopted its first major change to the hours-of-service regulations in about 65 years. The rules took effect in January 2004, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia invalidated the rules in July of that year on the grounds that FMCSA failed to consider the impact on driver health as mandated by Congress in 1995.

A second rulemaking led to a major limitation on the use of sleeper berths for split rest, but it too was rejected by the appeals court, this time on procedural grounds. Still another rulemaking led to a confirmation of the rules that were already in place, and FMCSA’s critics were once again back in court.