FMCSA to reconsider hours rules

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has decided to conduct another rulemaking regarding hours-of-service regulations as part of an Oct. 26 settlement with groups challenging the current regulations.


A federal appeals court has twice rejected hours rules FMCSA has implemented since January 2004, and several groups have been challenging the current regulations for allowing 11 hours of driving per shift and a 34-hour restart of cumulative on-duty limits.


The agreement with Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters places a hold on that litigation pending the completion of a rulemaking on driver hours of service.


Under terms of the settlement, FMCSA must begin a new rulemaking process and submit a notice of proposed rulemaking to the Office of Management and Budget within nine months. The agency will have another 12 months to issue a final rule. Meanwhile, the current rules will remain in effect.


“Safety is our highest priority at the U. S. Department of Transportation and so we believe that starting over and developing a rule that can help save lives is the smart thing to do,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.


The American Trucking Associations said it looks forward to participating in the upcoming rulemaking process to further demonstrate how the current hours rules are working and why they should be maintained.


The current rules have been proven safe over the last five years,” said Clayton Boyce, ATA vice president of public affairs. “The crash rate, injury rate and fatality rate are all at historic lows. “The science is on the side of the current hours-of-service rules.”


ATA noted that DOT figures show the trucking industry is the safest it has been since DOT began keeping crash statistics in 1975. Truck-involved fatalities have dropped by 19 percent since the new rules took effect, and the number of injuries has decreased by 13 percent since 2004, ATA said. Over that period, the number of registered trucks has risen by hundreds of thousands, while the number of miles driven by large trucks increased by more than 2 billion miles. 


The settlement came one day before FMCSA was to file its brief in the litigation over the hours rules. That filing was originally due on Oct. 13, but the agency sought and obtained an extension in part on the grounds that there was no permanent FMCSA administrator to make recommendations to the Justice Department on the conduct of the lawsuit.

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The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing in September on the nomination of Anne Ferro to be administrator, but she has not been confirmed. The same parties who were suing FMCSA over the hours rules had objected to Ferro’s nomination due to her support for the current regulations.


FMCSA’s request for an extension also cited the workload of the Justice Department attorney primarily responsible for preparing the government’s brief, but it made no reference to the possibility of a settlement.


In 2003, the agency adopted its first major change to the hours-of-service regulations in about 65 years. The rules took effect in January 2004, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia>invalidated the rules in July of that year on the grounds FMCSA failed to consider the impact on driver health as mandated by Congress in 1995.


A second rulemaking led to a major limitation on the use of sleeper berths for split rest, but it held in place other major elements, including the 14-hour window for completing work each day, the additional hour of driving compared to the old rules and a restart of weekly on-duty limits if drivers take 34 consecutive hours off duty.


After another challenge, the appeals court once again vacated the regulations, saying FMCSA had not given interested parties an opportunity to comment on the methodology for the crash-risk model that it used to justify an increase in the maximum number of daily and weekly hours that truck drivers may drive and work.


Still another rulemaking led to a confirmation of the rules already in place, and FMCSA’s critics were once again back in court earlier this year arguing the current rules are unsafe.