A three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has upheld most of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's hours of service rule change, striking down the 30-minute break provision for short-haul carriers.
In the opinion written by Circuit Judge Janice Brown
, the court generally affirmed the rule and vacated “only the agency’s application of the 30-minute break to short-haul drivers,” meaning that those drivers can exceed the 8-hour work period without taking a 30-minute break.
In the case, the American Trucking Associations had argued that the new hours of service rules lead to unnecessary costs and were overly restrictive. The court agreed with the association on the break-period restraint, but chose to keep intact the 34-hour restart provision of the rule, which the ATA had rallied against. The court explained the reasoning behind the 34-hour restart, which, it found, is necessary to keep drivers from cheating the newly imposed rules.
“It is often said the third time’s a charm," Brown wrote in reference the rule's long history of being challenged by the industry. "That may well be true in this case, the third of its kind to be considered by the circuit. With one small exception, our decision today brings to an end much of the permanent warfare surrounding the HOS rules. Though FMCSA won the day not on the strengths of its rulemaking prowess, but through an artless war of attrition, the controversies of this round are ended.”
This ruling caps off a lengthy argument over the merits of the FMCSA’s hours of service rule change, which was first announced in 2011 and became law on July 1. The ATA first challenged the law in February 2012, bringing it to the appeals court in March.
“During the over eight years of real-world experience under the 2003 rule, the operational safety of commercial trucking has improved markedly,” ATA wrote in its court brief. “The burden on anyone seeking to make changes to the rule, be it the FMCSA or other interested parties, is to demonstrate clearly that the rule will produce far more safety benefits than has already been realized, while not imposing significant costs that will burden manufacturers, shippers and consumers alike.”
The organization had requested a delay to the rule change while the appeal was being argued, saying that if the rule was overturned, it would cost the industry a lot of time and money to reverse measures put in place to satisfy the FMCSA, but the FMCSA chose to deny the request.
The ATA celebrated that the 30-minute break provision will not stand, but expressed disappointment that the majority of the ruling has been given the OK. Dave Osiecki, ATA’s senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs, noted that “the striking down of the short-haul break provision is an important victory.”
Even though the court sided with the FMCSA for most of the ruling, it said the federal agency had somewhat shaky reasoning for implementing the new rule, Osiecki pointed out.
“The court recognized on numerous occasions the shortcomings of the agency’s deliberations, so despite upholding most of the rule, we hope this opinion will serve as a warning to FMCSA not to rely on similarly unsubstantiated rulemakings in the future,” he said. “One thing this rulemaking makes clear is that fatigue is a small problem when viewed through a crash causation lens. ATA hopes FMCSA will work with the trucking industry to address more pressing safety and driver behavior issues, including those than can be directly affected through proven traffic enforcement activities aimed at unsafe operating behaviors.” - Jon Ross