Hours of service flexibility survives court challenge

July 29, 2022

Chuck Robinson

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Truckers get to keep the flexibility won for them in fall 2020 codified in the most recent revision to the hours of service regulations.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and some safety groups challenged the rules with a petition to review them. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied that petition, saying the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was diligent in considering driver health and safety in its denial to review the regulation.

“Because the modifications to the hours-of-service rules were sufficiently explained and grounded in the administrative record, we deny the petition,” the court ruled.

The hours-of-service rule took effect Sept. 29, 2020. The petition for review was filed just before they went into effect. The case was put on hold during the transition between presidential administrations, and the lawsuit resumed late in 2021.The case was argued on April 25.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association worked with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on the hours-of-service reforms and in defending them. The Association filed to intervene in the case before the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit. They were allowed to split FMCSA’s time in oral arguments to present the arguments of drivers.

The hours of service changes were prompted by an OOIDA petition from February 2018.

FMCSA made four changes to the hours of service in an attempt to give truck drivers more flexibility within the rules.

  • The short-haul operations provision increased the on-duty limits from 12 to 14 hours and from 100 air-miles to 150.
  • The 30-minute break provision was modified to allow on-duty, nondriving events, such as fueling or inspecting the load, to meet the requirement.

The rule changes also included changes to the adverse driving provision and split-sleeper options, but those updates were not contested in court.

Arguments against addressed

The petition for review challenged the hours of service rule – calling them arbitrary and capricious – on two broad fronts: highway safety and driver welfare.

Joining the Teamsters were the safety groups Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers.

Highway safety

Regarding highway safety, Highway Advocates claimed FMCSA was not diligent in reviewing relevant crash data in changing the short-haul operations provision.

The court noted that the agency had relied on a collision-rate study of concrete mixer trucks that examined how crash rates changed after Congress increased from 12 to 14 hours the time concrete-mixer drivers could be on duty and still qualify for the short-haul exemption. The agency found that the accident data showed the 14-hour on-duty period did not affect the number of crashes later in the day. While noting the data was not definitive, the agency determined it was the best available.

The court ruled that FMCSA sensibly weighed the pros and cons of the concrete-mixer study and provided a reasonable explanation for its reliance on that study. It also noted that short-haul drivers do not have the opportunity to pause the 14-hour clock while drivers are loading and unloading.

It added that since some short-haul drivers were already covered by the 14-hour duty day from the 2005 rule, all the new hours of service rule did was release more short-haul drivers from electronic recordkeeping requirements.

In addition, in making changes to the hours-of-service rule FMCSA drew on collision data from the operation of certain hazardous material vehicles that, for seven years, had allowed on-duty time to satisfy the 30-minute break requirement. There was no evidence of adverse safety effects, the court noted.

Driver welfare

In its petition, the Teamsters mentioned members who were not named that the changes lengthened the 12-hour workday for short-haul drivers and cut into family time. One individual said the changes forced drivers into performing more work, such as unloading, reloading and more driving, by extending the workday.

However, FMCSA determined that allowing flexibility by using the 30-minute break reduced the need for drivers to drive aggressively to stay within their work-hour limits.

Because under the new hours of service rules drivers have 30 more minutes to adjust to unexpected weather, traffic and detention times, they can take breaks without penalty when they need rest, FMCSA argued.

“In short, the Administration reasonably explained why the new rule was safety neutral by considering both the safety benefit of decreased pressure to drive aggressively and the prospect of maintaining a roughly equivalent number of breaks as before the rule change,” the court ruled.

The decision

The Court of Appeals three-judge panel, while somewhat critical of FMCSA, acknowledged the agency’s due diligence in considering driver health and safety in its denial to review the regulation and cleared the legal minimum hurdle.

“While aspects of the administration’s analysis and reasoning leave much to be desired, at bottom, the administration sufficiently explained and factually justified its conclusions that the new short-haul exemption and the 30-minute break requirement would not adversely affect safety, driver health, or regulatory compliance,” wrote Circuit Judge Patricia Millet wrote in the opinion for the court.

Because the D.C. Circuit Court denied the petition, current hours of service regulations remain in place. LL

Editor’s note: Managing Editor Jami Jones and Senior Editor Mark Schremmer contributed to this article.

 

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Chuck Robinson formerly was senior copy editor for a weekly trade publication serving the fresh produce industry. He has served trade publications, horticultural journals and community newspapers for 25 years.