ATA asks DOT to seek stay of hours-of-service ruling

The American Trucking Associations is calling on Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to push for a stay of a federal appeals court ruling on hours-of-service regulations and to encourage the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct an expedited rulemaking to address the court’s concerns.

An alternative to a stay is for the court to remand the rules, meaning that FMCSA would have to reconsider the two provisions the court objects while those provisions still remain in place, ATA says.

“While ATA is disappointed with the decision, we are encouraged by the fact that the shortcomings identified by the Court are procedural in nature and can be readily addressed by FMCSA,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a July 31 letter to Peters.

Citing procedural flaws in the rulemaking, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 24 vacated the 11-hour driving time provision and the 34-hour weekly restart provision of the HOS regulations. With a 45-day period for FMCSA to seek reconsideration and another week for the ruling to take effect, the current regulations would remain in place at least until mid-September.

“There is no compelling safety reason for these two elements of the rule to be vacated,” Graves told Peters. “Just a week ago, your Department issued its final truck-involved fatality figures for 2006 – the first full year of the industry operating under these new HOS rules – and fatalities declined by 4.7 percent, the largest drop in 14 years.”

In its reference to the “first full year,” ATA is talking about the rule as modified in August 2005. That modification sharply limited use of the sleeper berth for splitting rest. However, truck-involved fatalities in 2004 and 2005 – both full years operating under the first rewrite of the HOS rules – were higher than they were in 2003.

Graves told Peters that if the 11 hours of driving and the 34-hour restart are vacated in mid-September, “there will be disruptions in the supply chain, our economy will suffer, and the highway safety implications become an unreasoned variable.”

In asking for an expedited rulemaking on just those two provisions, Graves said that FMCSA’s policy decisions were sound and that FMCSA’s methodology just “needs to be better explained.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 1, addressing ATA’s proposed national clearinghouse on drug testing results as well as the HOS situation, Graves said that ATA would be filing its own motion for a stay but that the support of DOT and FMCSA will be critical.

The last time the court vacated the HOS rules, Congress intervened to give FMCSA more time. That strategy isn’t as promising this time.

“ATA is not at this time seeking congressional relief,” Graves said. “We believe the best resolution of this issue is to overcome the shortcomings identified by the court.”

Dave Osiecki, ATA’s vice president for safety, security and operations, cited a study by the American Transportation Research Institute that found that most drivers experienced less fatigue and preferred the 11 hours driving, 10 hours off, and 34-hour weekly restart provisions.

“Should that go away, frankly I feel sorry for the driver population,” Osiecki said.