OOIDA challenges hours-of-service rules in court

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The Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association has filed a court challenge requesting review of the new hours-of-service regulations for truck drivers. OOIDA has petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the regulations.

OOIDA initially petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for two changes to the current hours-of-service regulations on Aug. 29, 2005. The current regulations are set up in a way that if a trucker chooses to split up the required 10 hours of off-duty time, one of the two periods must be at least eight hours. That eight-hour rest period stops the 14-hour maximum on-duty clock. The other two off-duty hours can be taken at another time – either in the sleeper or out – to fulfill the 10-hour off-duty requirement, but they do not stop the 14-hour clock.

“We were simply asking that those two hours would also stop the clock, that the driver could take those off-duty and not count against his working time,” says Jim Johnston, OOIDA president and chief executive officer. “We think it’s common sense, because it’s consistent with the 10-hour off-duty requirement.”

The other change OOIDA petitioned for involved split sleeper-berth provision for team drivers. Under the current HOS regulations, team drivers have to take a minimum of eight consecutive hours off in the sleeper berth. One driver must remain in the sleeper berth, and during that time, OOIDA argues, the other driver is pressured to drive at least eight hours in one stretch while the other driver is off duty.

“That’s impractical for most team operations,” Johnston says. “We initially petitioned the DOT to retain what was then the current sleeper-berth exemption, which allowed the drivers to take sleeper-berth time in whatever increments they wanted, as long as no period was less than two hours.”

FMCSA denied OOIDA’s petition for reconsideration Dec. 5, 2005, forcing the association to take the matter to court. “We’re also looking forward to other industry interests joining with us in this case,” Johnston says. “The California Trucking Association has already indicated that they would like to piggyback on our suit since procedurally they were not allowed to file a suit on their own.”

FMCSA acknowledged that most team driver operations would have to change their scheduling practices but said that the rule change was needed to ensure that drivers could obtain seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

“The studies relied upon by the Agency and cited at length in the final rule do not support driver claims that short, but more frequent, periods of rest are just as good at preventing fatigue as a single extended sleep period,” FMCSA told OOIDA. The agency added that research shows that most individuals require seven to eight consecutive hours of sleep every day to maintain proper mental and physical functioning.

“There is no doubt that a driver is temporarily refreshed after a shorter period in a sleeper berth – that is why so many sleep researchers recommend naps – but without an extended sleep period of 7-8 consecutive hours, a driver will begin to accumulate fatigue,” FMCSA said.

On the rest issue for solo drivers, FMCSA questioned the relevance of an OOIDA member survey regarding the 2003 rule that concluded that drivers felt pressure to sacrifice breaks in order to maximize work within the 14-hour driving window. The 2005 rule is significantly different, and the survey didn’t focus on sleeper-berth drivers, the agency said. In any event, since the two-hour break for sleeper-berth drivers is mandatory, “there is no question of incentives or disincentives” regardless of whether the 14-hour clock is stopped.

OOIDA currently is awaiting a response from the court to decide how to proceed next. FMCSA has declined to comment on OOIDA’s litigation.