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Proposed Hours-of-Service Revisions Brought to Court

It seems as though every trucking industry change is taken to court at some time or another. This time, it is a change that most truckers are looking forward to: the changes in hours-of-service regulations. Intended to provide added flexibility to a trucker’s daily work, the hours-of-service changes are being challenged by safety groups arguing that the changes are bad news.

Details

On September 16th, a coalition of four different safety groups filed a petition to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. These safety groups are:

  • Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS).
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).
  • Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT).
  • Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH).

If you need a refresher for the four changes being made to hours-of-service regulations, they are briefly summarized as:

  1. A longer distance allowed for the short-haul exemption.
  2. A two hour longer window for adverse driving conditions.
  3. Thirty minute breaks allowed that count as on-duty, but not driving.
  4. More flexibility on hours being spent outside of the sleeper berth.

The coalition says that this added flexibility is not worth the resulting fatigue this flexibility will bring. In a statement, the four groups said:

“Specifically, provisions that ensured drivers receive a brief 30-minute break after being on duty for eight hours and that govern the operations of drivers who start and return to the same location and remain within a defined geographic area known as ‘short haul’ operations were significantly altered. In proposing these revisions, the FMCSA contradicted its own prior conclusions on these very issues and failed to undertake a proper analysis of the impacts the rule will have on truck drivers and the motoring public.”  

Jim Mullen, the Acting Administrator for the FMCSA back in May, stated that the changes do not change the allotted driving time (with the exception of the adverse driving conditions change), and commercial motor vehicle operators still cannot drive for more than eight hours without changing their duty status (again, with the exception of the adverse driving conditions change). Opponents claim that this defense is not good enough.

“Taking away a 30-minute break to get a cup of coffee or stretch one’s legs makes no sense, especially considering that driver fatigue is a known major contributor to crashes” said AHAS President Cathy Chase. It is important to note that the thirty minute break was not removed, just allowed to be taken while still on-duty, which may include getting a cup of coffee at store next to the diesel pump.

Cathy Chase continues. “If I fall asleep on the job, my head hits the keyboard. If a truck driver falls asleep, his/her head hits the windshield and that’s only part of the catastrophic outcome. Allowing operators to work longer hours and drive farther distances without proper rest breaks and other protections ignores science, data, and expert opinion, including that of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). With large truck crash fatalities on the rise for five consecutive years, the FMCSA should be taking action to advance proven solutions to reduce crashes, such as requiring automatic emergency braking, rather than eviscerating the minimal truck driver protections.”

General President of the IBT, James P. Hoffa, was much more harsh in his criticism, accusing the FMCSA of not doing its job in a conflict of interest.

“FMCSA has bowed to special trucking industry interests at the expense of highway safety, seeking longer workdays for drivers who are already being pushed to the limit. We join this lawsuit to ensure that our members and their families are protected from fatigued drivers when they use our nation’s highways.”

Conclusion

An injunction has not been filed yet by any court system in the United States. The way things are currently going, everything is set for the new regulations to be in place come September 29th. Even if the court rules against the hours-of-service changes, the red tape of the judicial process means there may be a few weeks in October where operating under the changes is lawful. We will keep you posted if any special news happens regarding this lawsuit and if it changes the regulations regarding hours-of-service.

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