Hours-of-service lawsuit targets short haul, break provisions

December 6, 2021

Mark Schremmer

|

A lawsuit challenging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s changes to the hours of service specifically targets provisions involving short-haul operations and the 30-minute break requirement.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and several safety groups filed their petitioners’ brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday, Dec. 3. The groups said the rule changes weakened the hours-of-service regulations and will negatively affect highway safety. The safety groups involved in the lawsuit are the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers.

“The final rule fails to demonstrate that the agency considered all relevant factors and engaged in reasoned decision-making,” the petitioners’ brief stated. “Accordingly, the final rule is arbitrary and capricious, and the court should set aside the provisions on short-haul drivers and the 30-minute break requirement.”

FMCSA’s hours-of-service rule changes went into effect in September 2020.

The agency’s final rule made four major changes to the hours of service.

  • The on-duty limits for short-haul operations increased from 12 to 14 hours and from 100 air-miles to 150.
  • The adverse driving provision extended the driving window two hours if the driver encounters adverse driving conditions. In the final rule, the definition of “adverse driving” was modified so that the exception may be applied based on the driver’s (and the dispatcher’s) knowledge of the conditions after being dispatched.
  • In addition to splits of 10/0 and 8/2, drivers are allowed a split-sleeper option of 7/3. Also, the qualifying period doesn’t count against the 14-hour window.
  • The 30-minute break provision was modified to require the break after eight hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.

FMCSA’s move toward the rule changes lasted more than two years. The agency issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in August 2018. FMCSA conducted several listening sessions and received more than 8,000 comments from the public before releasing the final rule.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association initiated the rule changes through a petition in February 2018, saying that professional drivers needed more flexibility within the rules. Although FMCSA’s final rule isn’t a replica of OOIDA’s initial petition, the Association supports the rule changes and is serving as an intervenor in the lawsuit.

Short-haul limits

The lawsuit says that FMCSA’s changes to the short-haul limits did not account for the risks of driving later in the workday and failed to adequately respond to a study showing that driving under the short-haul exemption increases crash risk by 383%.

“FMCSA has not supplied a rational explanation why its changes to the short-haul exemption would not be expected to affect compliance with hours-of-service regulation, which, in turn, affect safety,” the petitioners’ brief stated. “The record-of-duty status/electronic-logging-device requirements are vital to ensuring compliance with hours-of-service rules. The final rule’s short-haul provisions increase the number of drivers who will be able to take advantage of the short-haul exemption to those requirements. They also provide drivers who use that exemption with more time in which to drive and the ability to drive greater distances without stopping, thus increasing the possibility of violations of the hours-of-service rules.”

In the final rule, the agency said the change to the short-haul operations does not extend the driving window beyond 14 hours and that it did “not anticipate adverse impacts on safety.”

30-minute break

The rule change did not eliminate the 30-minute break requirement, but it gave drivers more flexibility regarding when they could take it. The new rule allows drivers to take the break while doing such activities as fueling or doing an equipment check.

The lawsuit argues that FMCSA “ignored the effect on safety of cumulative fatigue due to increased working hours and the fatigue effects of nondriving work.”

In the final rule, FMCSA said it didn’t expect the changes to the 30-minute break to have any “fatigue effect because drivers continue to be constrained by the 11-hour driving limit and would continue to receive on-duty/nondriving breaks from the driving task.”

What’s next?

FMCSA’s response to the petitioners’ brief is due Jan. 18. OOIDA’s intervenor response brief is due Jan. 25. LL

 

TravelCenters

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.