Trucking Industry, Allies Push Back Against Hours-of-Service Changes

Timothy Cama
Transport Topics
December 31, 2012

The trucking industry and its allies pushed back against modified hours-of-service rules for drivers, while federal regulators pushed ahead with safety initiatives that ranged from requiring electronic onboard recorders to ensuring that unsafe trucking companies cannot keep operating after being shut down.

Just before the year began, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a rule that restricted truck drivers' use of the 34-hour restart, which allows drivers to reset their weekly limits on driving. The rule, set to take effect in July 2013, limits drivers to one restart every seven days and mandates that the restart include two periods, each from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

American Trucking Associations publicly blasted those changes, along with a requirement that drivers take a half-hour break before driving more than eight hours. The federation filed a federal lawsuit in February to stop the rule.

"The agency claims that restart restrictions and the off-duty break requirement are justified by the cost-benefit analysis in FMCSA's regulatory impact analysis," ATA wrote in its opening brief filed in July in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. "That 'analysis,' however, is a sham; FMCSA stacked the deck in favor of its preferred outcome by basing its cost-benefit calculations on a host of transparently unjustifiable assumptions," the federation said.

A coalition of business groups backed ATA's arguments in their own brief.

FMCSA defended its rule in a September brief, saying it was developed from the "weighing of scientific evidence and its careful consideration of the potential effects on health and safety, as well as the costs and the effects of the rule on the public and the regulated industry."

Public Citizen, joined by two other interest groups, fought the rule from the opposite side, saying FMCSA should have reduced maximum driving hours to 10 from 11.

The court announced in December that it will hear oral arguments in the case on March 15.

FMCSA also spent the year studying how it could mandate EOBRs for almost all truck drivers while ensuring the drivers are not harassed, following a 2011 court ruling throwing out the rule.

In a series of listening sessions around the country, FMCSA sought to find out what kind of harassment EOBRs could enable and how a regulation might prevent it.

Truck drivers told the agency that the devices allow dispatchers to push them to go beyond legal driving hours, while bothering them when they rest. The drivers also challenged the notion that EOBRs increase safety.

But carriers and ATA maintained that by ensuring compliance with HOS rules, the devices save lives. FMCSA agreed as it pushed forward trying to solve both the harassment issue and the issue of data privacy in EOBR communications.

FMCSA planned to issue a proposal that solved those issues late in 2012 or early in 2013, but at press time for [Transport Topics] it had yet to do so.

And the agency now has a legal mandate to write the rule. The transportation funding bill signed into law in July requires that the rule be finalized by October 2013.

Following a March report that faulted progress on regulating "reincarnated" fleets, FMCSA took a number of actions to crack down on carriers with poor safety records that were shut down only to come back to life under other names.

Among the moves was a November proposal that would allow FMCSA to shut down carriers that hire officers who have shown an "egregious disregard" for safety regulations.

The agency also sought to in-crease its oversight of medical qualifications of drivers with an April rule that sets forth standards and tests for medical examiners who perform driver physicals.


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