Court stays hours rules until Dec. 27

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia late Friday, Sept. 28, decided to hold the current hours-of-service regulations in place until Dec. 27 to give the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration time to consider changes in the rules in light of the court’s July 24 decision.

In its July opinion, the court voided the 11 hours of driving and the 34-hour restart on the grounds that the public didn’t have adequate notice of FMCSA’s methodology for analyzing crash risk.

The American Trucking Associations had asked the court for an eight-month stay of the decision to allow for further rulemaking. FMCSA, which strongly supported ATA’s request, asked that the stay remain in place for 12 months. Under the court’s Rule 41, however, a stay of a mandate ordinarily does not extend beyond 90 days.

In other action, the court rejected the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s request for a rehearing on its challenge to various aspects of the current regulations, including the restrictions on split rest in sleeper berths.

ATA, through a press statement, said that it was pleased the court granted in part its motion for a stay, that it was confident the court has provided FMCSA sufficient time to issue an interim final rule that retains the 11-hour driving limit and the 34-hour restart, and that it would continue to urge the agency to proceed to a final rule in a timely manner. FMCSA said it was “carefully evaluating our options in light of the court’s ruling.”

ATA said the trucking industry and its customers could not instantaneously shift to an hours-of-service regime with a different daily driving limit and without the 34-hour restart; rather, such a conversion would require months of preparation. Changes, according to ATA, would require retraining drivers and operating personnel, reprinting logs and other forms, reprogramming dispatching and electronic onboard recording software, reengineering routes, addressing customers’ issues, hiring new drivers and purchasing new trucks to compensate for the loss of productivity.

Washington-based consumer watchdog Public Citizen — which originally brought the case before the court — opposed any stays, arguing that federal regulators used the same tactic two years ago to maintain the old requirements, but said the court’s decision added pressure for the regulators and industry to comply. “Ninety days really puts them to the test,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.

OOIDA expressed its disappointment in the court’s decision. OOIDA had asked the court to review whether FMCSA had given adequate public notice of the changes it made to the sleeper-berth rule, and whether the agency had adequately considered the effect of the 14-hour rule to discourage drivers from taking short rest breaks.

“We are obviously not too happy about the decision, but more importantly, we are focused on reviewing other options on possible future actions,” said Rick Craig, OOIDA director of regulatory affairs. “While this concludes our options for review from the courts, we will be working with FMCSA for a speedy resolution now and petitioning the agency in the future for practical rules that reflect the real world for most truckers.”