Safety groups ask appeals court to review hours rule

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The Teamsters, Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition asked an appeals court Monday, March 9, to review the latest hours-of-service rules. The groups also sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking him to begin work on a new regulation.

“We have taken this action with the conviction, based on research and scientific data, that longer driving and working hours are unsafe and promote driver fatigue,” the letter said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s final rule, published Nov. 19 in the Federal Register, adopted the provisions of its Dec. 17, 2007, interim final rule on the hours rules. The agency issued the December 2007 IFR to hold current regulations in place pending a reconsideration ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which twice has struck down the Bush administration’s hours-of-service rules on various grounds.

Under the final rule, commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers may continue to drive up to 11 hours within a 14-hour nonextendable window from the start of the workday, following at least 10 consecutive hours off duty. And motor carriers and drivers may continue to restart calculations of the weekly on-duty limits after the driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off duty. The 11-hour and 34-hour rules were at the heart of Public Citizen’s second challenge to the hours rules.

The Bush administration’s Nov. 19 publication of the hours rules came in just under the wire in order to avoid the moratorium on rules declared by the Obama administration, as well as possible congressional action to negate them.

FMCSA took action on the last full working day before President Obama’s inauguration to ensure that the new administration would not be able to easily undo the final hours regulations. In a Jan. 16 letter to several organizations, FMCSA stood by its decisions to retain the 34-hour restart and 11 hours of driving, saying that there had been ample scientific evidence backing the safety of the regulations.

The four safety advocacy groups, which on Dec. 18 had filed a petition for reconsideration, had 60 days after the Jan. 16 denial to file for a review of the decision by the D.C. appeals court. The Obama administration also could initiate its own reconsideration of the hours rules, but it would have to start over from the beginning with a notice of proposed rulemaking.

“The last administration completely disregarded the health and safety of truck drivers,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “I’m confident President Obama will do better.”

“Twice now, the court has found wanting the agency’s justifications for this unsafe and unhealthy rule,” said Bonnie Robin-Vergeer, the Public Citizen attorney who represents the four petitioning groups. “Insisting on the same flawed rule over and over is no substitute for complying with Congress’ mandates.”

“It is illogical and unacceptable that the prior administration’s solution to truck driver fatigue was longer working and driving hours,” said Jackie Gillan, vice president for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Public health and safety is at stake, and there needs to be a new rule.”

“The Bush administration’s rule put industry profits in the driver’s seat and public safety in the back seat,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, a member of the Truck Safety Coalition. “This needs to be reversed now.”

To read the petition, click here. To read the groups’ letter to LaHood, click here.