The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has shot back its response to the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals categorically denouncing Public Citizen’s arguments for its opposition to a stay in the hours of service (HOS) rules.
This marks the final response to the Court’s July 16 ruling until it makes its decision whether or not to uphold FMCSA’s request for a stay of the mandate. Both FMCSA and Public Citizen expect the Court to make a decision “quickly,” however, no timeline has been set.
FMCSA’s reply attacks Public Citizen’s argument that the current HOS rules present a grave safety risk, while fortifying its position that going back to the old rules will create regulatory chaos that undermines safety— a claim that Public Citizen has contested.
“Petitioner’s (Public Citizen) dire predictions of harm from continued implementation of the new rule overlooks the fact that there has been no finding in this case that the current rule is less safe than the old rule and fails to recognize that immediate return to the old rule is not in the interest of safety,” FMCSA stated.
FMCSA said Public Citizen’s argument that the current rules are unsafe “provide nothing but speculation to support their assertion. There is no basis upon which one can conclude that the current rule— which is more stringent in some respects than the old rule— has resulted in diminished safety. Petitioners cite nothing to suggest that accidents have risen,” stated FMCSA.
Public Citizen, on the other hand, asserted in a brief filed on September 13 that the risks to public safety and drivers’ health are greater than the any negative economic or regulatory impact a reversion to the old rules would present. “From a highway standpoint alone, a single fatality that results from the fact that under the new, invalidated rules truck drivers can now drive will cost the public significantly more in pure monetary terms than the transition expenses that will be borne by any of the largest motor carriers.
“The record reflects nothing about the additional costs and burdens imposed by the new rules in terms of adverse, possibly irreparable, health effects on truck drivers because the agency did not consider that statutorily mandated factor in the slightest,” stated Public Citizen.
FMCSA accused Public Citizen of overstating the agency’s ability to initiate a smooth and quick transition back to the old rules. “Petitioner’s argument…reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the harm and a persistent misconstruction of the statutes and regulations governing enforcement of those requirements,” FMCSA stated.
FMCSA defended its position that an immediate vacating of the current rules would create a patchwork of HOS requirements in numerous states. “Petitioners contend that states have every incentive to adopt the federal safety regulations as quickly as possible, pointing to the largely successful efforts to do so during the transition to the current rule. That transition took eight months and involved a significant amount of effort,” the agency stated.
Additionally, the agency underscored its reliance on the states to enforce HOS rules. “State authorities account for 95% of total HOS enforcement resources and conduct 96% of roadside inspections. It is fanciful to assume that the FMCSA, with a total of just over 1,000 employees in the entire agency, can simply step into the breach created by the loss of over 10,000 state officers involved in enforcing HOS regulations,” FMCSA stated.
These arguments were made in response to Public Citizen’s accusation that the agency has understated its ability to implement the old rules in a timely manner. “FMCSA’s partnership with the states in enforcing the HOS…coupled with its ultimate authority to preempt incompatible state laws, allows it to lead the commercial vehicle safety arena with an iron fist in a velvet glove. There is every reason to believe that when the new HOS rules are vacated and the old rules reinstated, FMCSA and the states will work together cooperatively to make the transition as rapid and as smooth as possible,” the advocacy group said.