More parties challenge hours rule

user-gravatar Headshot

Safety and trucking groups are challenging provisions of the hours-of-service rule in court, though for different reasons.

Four safety groups — Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety — were joined by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in asking a federal court Monday, Feb. 27 to review the part of the rule that allows drivers to drive 11 consecutive hours before taking a mandatory 10-hour off-duty break.

Before 2004, drivers were allowed to drive 10 hours, but when the rule was revised, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration upped the total number of driving hours while increasing the required rest period. “That FMCSA chose to expand driving hours is astounding given its statutory mandate to make safety its highest priority and Congress’s specific directive to the agency to reduce fatigue-related incidents,” says Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “We fully expect the court to find once again that this rule violates the agency’s clear assignment to put safety first.”

Three of the safety groups — Public Citizen, CRASH and PATT — have challenged the law before. The groups won when the court ruled FMCSA had failed to take driver health into consideration when drafting the rule in 2003. But actions by Congress and the agency mitigated the effects of that court ruling.

FMCSA reissued the rule Aug. 25, modifying regulations concerning sleeper berths but leaving on-duty driving provisions unchanged. The groups petitioned FMCSA in the fall to reconsider the rule, but said Monday, Feb. 27 that they were withdrawing that petition and filing one with the court. The groups said they had not heard from FMCSA since filing their petition five months ago.

Those sleeper-berth changes, on the other hand, have spawned a court challenge by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. OOIDA is fighting changes made in August to the sleeper-berth provision. It also wants to change a provision of the rule known as the 14-hour on-duty clock, which limits a driver’s day to a total of 14 hours once he or she goes on duty, unless the trucker takes a long enough break.

That challenge, which was filed earlier in 2006, is gaining momentum. Several trucking groups — including the Truckload Carriers Association, the Ohio Trucking Association and the California Trucking Association — have filed supporting documents to help the challenge; so has the Teamsters union. “This means we have a great deal of support for our petition now,” says Paul Cullen Jr., a member of OOIDA’s legal team. “These groups support OOIDA’s position and will have the opportunity to present arguments of their own.”

Studies are mixed on the impact of the hours-of-service rule on fatigue. Drivers are getting more rest, but they also are reporting more instances of drowsy driving. The number of fatal accidents involving large trucks has not increased substantially since the new rule went into effect. Safety groups claim productivity provisions in the rule — including the 34-hour restart — substantially increase the number of hours truckers can drive in a seven- or eight-day period over the rule that essentially governed the industry from the 1930s until 2004.

Both petitions have been filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.