Saga to Establish Hours-of-Service Trucking Regulations Continues


October 20, 2010 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has been working on revising trucking hours-of-service (HOS) rules for over ten years. During that time there have been several court challenges and at least three major revisions. Hours-of-service regulations limit how long commercial-motor-vehicle (CMV) drivers may drive. The HOS rules are intended to ensure truck drivers get enough rest to operate vehicles safely.

Among other specifications, the current FMCSA regulations provide that CMV drivers carrying property may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. The 11-hour maximum was an increase that went into effect in 2004 from a previous rule mandating a 10-hour maximum. Safety groups concerned about truck accidents caused by fatigued drivers were initially pressing for a return to the 10-hour maximum. More recently, however, the advocacy group Public Citizen and the Teamsters union have pushed for an even greater decrease to a maximum of eight hours of driving a day. Additionally, these groups are advocating for an increase in the required daily off-duty period to 12 hours from the current 10.

Why has it taken so long to revise these rules? The FMCSA has provided several explanations for why it has taken an extended period to complete the revisions. The agency has been assessing new technologies; there has been a transfer of responsibilities from another agency, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA); and crafting the HOS rules is a complex task. The agency does concede that none of the challenges justifies the extent of the delay.

Stakeholders Involved in Trucking Regulations

The number of stakeholders advocating for opposing revisions likely contributes to the difficulty the FMCSA has had in effectively revising the HOS rules. While groups like Public Citizen and the Teamsters union are advocating for a decrease in the maximum number of hours truckers may drive each day, many major trucking companies and the American Trucking Associations (ATA) are largely satisfied with the current rules.

Public Citizen has fought twice in court to overturn the current HOS rules allowing truckers to drive 11 hours per day. The group backs up its argument with statistics showing that roughly 5,000 people (including about 800 drivers) die in truck-related accidents every year. Public Citizen cites the extended hours truckers are allowed to drive (as much as 88 hours during an eight day period) as contributing to fatigued and unsafe driving.

Industry experts counter that the roads for truckers are safer than they ever have been. Indeed the FMCSA's own research found that between 1999 and 2008 the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes dropped by over 17 percent. During that same period, the number of trucks involved in injury crashes decreased by an even greater percentage. Carriers further argue that if hours were reduced it would lead to increased congestion on highways and slower service.

New Regulations for Electronic On-Board Recorders

Another issue connected to HOS regulations is the use of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs). These devices automatically track the amount of hours a driver spends operating a vehicle and are favored by safety groups.

In April the FMCSA issued a new rule requiring carriers with a pattern of HOS violations to install EOBRs on all their vehicles for a minimum of two years. Specifically, this rule will affect carriers with 10 percent or more HOS violations during a single compliance review. The FMCSA estimates that almost 5,700 interstate carriers will use EOBRs after the first year of the rule's implementation.

The new EOBR regulations will take effect in June 2012, but the mandate may be broadened if safety advocates have their way. The FMCSA seems willing to consider requiring EOBRs under additional circumstances, which may help facilitate a compromise between groups on both sides of the HOS debate.

The Current Status of the FMSCA Revisions to HOS Rules

After holding five listening sessions across the country earlier this year, the FMCSA recently completed a rewrite of the HOS rules. The specifics of the revisions will not be released until the rewrite has been approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Speculation has been that the FMCSA will seek the middle ground and propose the maximum be lowered to 10 hours of driving per day.

A notice of proposed rulemaking will likely be issued by November followed by a public comment period ending in January 2011. If everything goes well a final rule may be issued next summer. Is there an end in sight for the HOS rule revisions? Perhaps not, because it seems probable either side may challenge the new rules in court. The saga is likely to continue.

Article provided by Harris & Harris Lawyers