FMCSA extends comment period on interim hours rule

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended the public comment period on its interim hours-of-service rule by 30 days. The original deadline for the submission of public comments was today, Feb. 15, but the deadline has been changed to March 17, and a notice of the change will be published in the Federal Register, FMCSA Chief John Hill said in a letter to Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

According to Hill’s letter dated Wednesday, Feb. 13, Gillan requested the extension in a Feb. 7 letter. Hill said in the letter that FMCSA agreed that allowing additional time for comments would be appropriate.

Under the Interim Final Rule made public Dec. 11, truck drivers will continue to be limited to driving only 11 hours within a 14-hour duty period, after which they must go off duty for at least 10 hours. The IFR also retains the provision of the hours rules that allows drivers to restart their cumulative on-duty limits by taking 34 consecutive hours off duty. FMCSA is seeking comment on its methodology and on safety data that was not available when the agency issued its most recent version of the rules in 2005.

The agency issued the new hours-of-service rule in response to the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacating those two key provisions of the existing rules. The IFR took effect Dec. 27 — the same day that a stay granted by the appeals court expired. In order to ensure no gap in coverage of the rules, the IFR temporarily reinstated those two provisions while the agency gathered public comment on its actions and the underlying safety analysis before issuing a final rule.

In its July 2007 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 IFR was developed after new data showed that safety levels have been maintained since the 11-hour driving limit was first implemented in 2003, FMCSA said.

The D.C. appeals court on Jan. 24 issued an order denying Public Citizen’s request to invalidate the IFR. Public Citizen claimed that the court’s prior decisions in the case effectively prohibited FMCSA from issuing an IFR that included the 11- and 34-hour provisions.

To view the IFR, click here. To comment, view comments or download supporting documents for the IFR, visit www.regulations.gov and search FMCSA-2004-19608.

Further analysis after the comment period ends could take “a few weeks or even a few months,” according to Hill. Once a final rule has been established, FMCSA will review longstanding concerns from drivers and carriers over the provision that restricts the sleeper berth split to eight-hour and two-hour periods, Hill said.

FMCSA also is working to finalize a proposed rule that would require drivers and trucking companies with serious or repeat hours-of-service violations to track their hours of service using electronic onboard recorders.