We’ve been following the lawsuit filed by the American Trucking Association challenging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Final Hours of Service (HOS) rule for commercial truck drivers since it began (see our earlier post here which includes a summary of the HOS Rule itself) and this week, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has issued its opinion in the matter.
The ATA’s challenge was combined with a challenge to the same HOS Rule brought by Public Citizen, and the opinion in Cause No. 12-1092, American Trucking Associations,Inc., Petitioner v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration And United States Of America, Respondents Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association,Inc., Et Al., Intervenors, can be read online here.
HOS Rule As Explained by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The federal agency responsible for overseeing this truck driver regulation, FMCSA, issued its report on this new court opinion with the following explanation of what the controversy was about:
On December 27, 2011 (76 FR 81133), FMCSA published a final rule amending its hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The final rule adopted several changes to the HOS regulations, including a new provision requiring drivers to take a rest break during the work day under certain circumstances. Drivers may drive a CMV only if 8 hours or less have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes.
FMCSA did not specify when drivers must take the 30-minute break, but the rule requires that they wait no longer than 8 hours after the last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of that length or longer to take the break. Drivers who already take shorter breaks during the work day could comply with the rule by taking one of the shorter breaks and extending it to 30 minutes. The new requirement took effect on July 1, 2013.
Federal Appeals Court Rules On FMCSA’s HOS Rule and Changes Only Small Part
As explained in the Opinion, there were two (2) challenges to the Hours of Service (HOS) rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2011 that were resolved by the court this week.
ATA argued that the HOS was too restrictive on trucking companies and that it cost too much for the trucking industry to implement and follow. Public Citizen, representing truck drivers and the public interest argued that the new FMCSA HOS Rule didn’t do enough, safety-wise.
After years of litigation and arguments by truckers and trucking companies, the DC Appeals Court decided to affirm the HOS Rule almost in its entirety — the only thing about the HOS Rule that has been altered by the federal appeals court is that it has vacated the FMCSA’s application of the 2011 HOS Rule regarding 30 minute breaks for short-haul drivers.
Who are short-haul drivers?
The Opinion describes them as “typified by the local FedEx delivery driver,…” these are commercial drivers who usually work 8 to 10 hour days, 5 days a week, with routine routes and stops. Short haul drivers are statistically low in accident studies where fatigue was a factor in the crash.
The Court agreed that these drivers had less need for the HOS rule requiring 30-minute breaks by their 7th hour of work than long-haul drivers — and also acknowledged that having some short haul drivers (like Federal Express or UPS delivery truck drivers) taking these breaks would interfere with their delivery schedules and impact their efficiency as well as the productivity of their employers.
Clearly, the DC Court is hopeful that the litigation regarding Hours of Service is now over and done now. As Circuit Judge Brown writes in an opinion issued by Brown, Circuit Judge Griffith, and Senior Circuit Judge Randolph:
“It is often said the third time’s a charm. 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.
“For the foregoing reasons, we grant ATA’s petition in part and vacate the rule insofar as it subjects short-haul drivers to the 30-minute off-duty break requirement. In all other respects, the petitions of both ATA and Public Citizen are Denied.”