March 25, 2009: Several safety advocacy groups, along with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit against the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, urging review of a final rule increasing from 10 to 11 consecutive hours the length of time interstate truck drivers may spend behind the wheel (Public Citizen v. FMCSA, D.C. Cir.,docket number unavailable, filed 3/9/09).
The rule took effect Jan. 19, 60 days after its November publication in the Federal Register. The rule allows commercial motor vehicle drivers to continue to drive up to 11 hours within a single workday and to restart calculations of their weekly on-duty limits after the driver has been off duty for at least 34 consecutive hours (223 DLR AA-1, 11/19/08). IBT and the other groups filed the lawsuit March 9.
The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition, which includes Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT). In addition to the petition for review filed in the case, the organizations sent a letter March 9 to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, urging him to issue a new, improved regulation dealing with hours of service (HOS) requirements for truck drivers.
“We strongly support a regulation on interstate truck drivers' HOS that improves truck safety, reduces fatigue-related crashes, and safeguards truck driver health,” the letter said. “These are goals that have been mandated by Congress and are strongly supported by the American public.”
Hoffa ‘Confident' in New Administration
In a March 9 statement, IBT General President James P. Hoffa said “the last administration completely disregarded the health and safety of truck drivers. I'm confident President Obama will do better.”
The letter also pointed out to LaHood that similar regulations had been struck down by the D.C. Circuit twice before, in separate lawsuits decided in 2004 and 2007 (137 DLR AA-1, 7/19/04; 142 DLR AA-1, 7/25/07). In both rulings, the letter said, the courts “struck down nearly identical HOS rules issued by FMCSA, determining that the agency had failed to justify the rule's significant increases in consecutive and weekly driving hours.” Therefore, the letter said, the judges who decided the previous cases “have agreed with our arguments that the current HOS rule is flawed.”
The letter also charged that FMCSA's current and previous rules on hours of service have not addressed “the significant health problems engendered by driving longer hours.”
Bill Adams, a spokesman with the Department of Transportation, confirmed to BNA that the agency had received the letter but declined to comment further, saying it was “under review.”
Meanwhile, John Hill, the former administrator of FMCSA who was in office when the rule was enacted, told BNA March 9 that “the rule did much more than permit up to 11 hours of driving,” such as requiring drivers to take 10 hours off duty instead of eight hours.
Hill said instead of focusing on HOS requirements, the plaintiffs “should be petitioning FMCSA to implement rules that will have permanent and significant reductions in crashes, deaths, and injuries by asking for stability control systems and adaptive cruise control with active braking on commercial vehicles.” Such new technologies would reduce crashes by 25 percent to 35 percent, Hill said.
The petition in the case may be accessed at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/teamstersforademocraticunion/pages/6873/attachments/original/1434140168/PetitionforReview1.pdf?1434140168. The letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is available at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/teamstersforademocraticunion/pages/6873/attachments/original/1434140168/LahoodHOSLetter.pdf?1434140168.