Do over

Linda Longton, Editor
[email protected]

Think you finally have the hang of how to operate safely and efficiently within the new hours-of-service regulations? Not so fast. The rules may change – again. More than three years after the first revision to the 70-year-old hours-of-service rule went into effect, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 24 rejected two major parts of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours regulations: the increase of the daily driving time limit from 10 hours to 11 and the 34-hour restart option for drivers’ weekly on-duty status.

The court, ruling on a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen, invalidated the two points for procedural reasons, stating that FMCSA failed to give interested parties the chance to comment on the crash-risk model it used to justify the increases in hours worked.

In July 2004, the same court ruled – also on a suit brought by Public Citizen and others – that the revised rules, which went into effect in January of that year, failed to take driver health into consideration. In response, FMCSA came out in 2005 with yet another revised rule that removed some of the flexibility for drivers using the sleeper berth to split rest.

Public Citizen’s strategy is to chip away at each hours rule, working toward its goal of further limiting driving time and forcing electronic on-board recorders into every truck. FMCSA’s strategy is to issue rules that help reduce highway deaths while still providing the flexibility the trucking industry says it needs to deliver the nation’s freight.

All this is done, of course, in the name of highway safety. But after three and a half years under an ever-evolving rule, there’s no real proof yet that our roads are any safer. Sure, truck-involved highway fatalities declined last year, but they were actually higher in 2004 and 2005.

Nevertheless, the pattern of lawsuits and rulemakings probably won’t soon end. The current law stays in place until Sept. 14, and at press time FMCSA had yet to determine its next course of action. But whatever the outcome, chances are good that sooner or later, the hours rules you operate under will change again. And it will be up to you to adapt, as you always do, and prove once more that the safety of our nation’s highways rests not with safety advocates or Washington bureaucrats, but with America’s truck drivers – no matter which version of the rule you’re operating under.