Industry News

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., overturned the hours-of-service rule that went into effect Jan. 4, citing a failure by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration to take into account the rule’s impact on drivers’ health.

The ruling, which favors Public Citizen and other groups that sued to block the rule, leaves big questions about the future of the regulations that govern the hours truckers work and rest.

“We agree with petitioners that the rulemaking was arbitrary and capricious, because the FMCSA failed to take account of a statutory limit on its authority,” the court ruled. “We therefore grant the petition for review and vacate the rule.” The court remanded the rule back to the agency.

“Under the court’s rules of procedure, (FMCSA) has 45 days to review the decision and decide whether to seek other legal remedies,” FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandburg said of the July 16 ruling. “During that period of time, the current hours-of-service rule, announced in April 2003, remains in effect.”

FMCSA said it will advise federal and state law enforcement authorities of their responsibility to continue compliance with the current rule and will advise major associations to educate motor carriers and drivers of the continued need for compliance. The agency also can appeal for an extension of 90 days.

According to the ruling, “the agency failed to consider the impact of the rules on the health of drivers … Because the agency has wholly failed to comply with this specific statutory requirement, this single objection from petitioners is sufficient to establish an arbitrary-and-capricious decision” that requires vacating the rule.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “This is a sweeping victory. The courts have finally told FMCSA that they have to put the health of drivers first. That’s always been their mission; they just haven’t carried it out.”

Claybrook notes that the ruling criticized “deficiencies of the rule” other than drivers’ health. The court found troubling:

  • Increasing driver time from 10 to 11 hours a day.
  • Retaining the sleeper-berth exception.
  • Not requiring electronic on-board recorders.
  • Including a 34-hour restart provision.
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Justification for keeping the sleeper-berth exception “was not rational,” the ruling states. “We have grave doubts about whether the agency’s explanation for retaining the sleeper-berth exception would survive

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