Lawsuit over hours of service remains in abeyance

August 23, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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A lawsuit over the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s changes to the hours of service will remain in abeyance for at least a couple more months.

On Aug. 20, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice offered a status report to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and recommended that the case remain in abeyance for another 60 days. The next status report would be due Oct 19. Oral arguments have not been scheduled.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Teamsters and other safety groups filed a lawsuit last year over FMCSA’s changes to the hours of service that were enacted by the previous administration. In February, the lawsuit was placed in abeyance to give the FMCSA’s new administration time to familiarize itself with the case.

The case surrounds FMCSA’s hours-of-service final rule that went into effect on Sept. 29, 2020.

With the goal of providing drivers more flexibility within the hours-of-service rules, the agency made changes to short-haul limits, the adverse driving provision, and the 30-minute break provision, and it added a split-sleeper option. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the rule changes and is an intervenor in the lawsuit.

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.

Many of the comments stressed that the previous hours-of-service regulations combined with the electronic logging mandate created a “beat the clock” mentality that decreased safety.

Weeks before the rule went into effect, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Teamsters, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers challenged whether FMCSA had the authority to issue the final rule and argued that the final rule is “arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise contrary to law.”

“Under the guise of increased flexibility, the changes will further exacerbate the already well-known threat of fatigue among commercial motor vehicle drivers by significantly weakening current hours-of-service rules,” the groups said in a news release.

The new hours of service included four changes aimed at giving drivers more flexibility.

  • 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 (in addition to 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.

OOIDA said the rule changes give truckers more opportunities to rest when they are tired and will lead to an overall improvement in safety.

“OOIDA has long advocated for increased flexibility in the hours-of-service rules,” the Association wrote in its motion to intervene. “OOIDA twice petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation and FMCSA to amend the hours-of-service rules to provide drivers with more flexibility in their workday.”

FMCSA’s rule changes have been in effect for nearly 11 months. LL

 

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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.