Trucks at Work

Hours in place

So it seems the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration‘s risky of move of not changing its new hours of service (HOS) formula may be paying off, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit late last week denied motions filed by the Teamsters and Public Citizen to toss them out.

You may remember that a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen and the Teamster put the FMCSA‘s new HOS rules - 11 hours of driver time within a 14-hour duty period, after which truckers must go off duty for at least 10 hours, with a 34-hour restart provision - in limbo last year. The court found the feds hadn‘t properly documented the safety aspects of the new rules, so FMCSA went back and pulled together reams of new safety data they said showed the revised HOS rules worked. The feds submitted that data to the court late last year, and now it seems the court agrees with the FMCSA on this.

“Government and industry safety data clearly indicate that the current rules are working in terms of driver health, truck safety, and overall highway safety,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO for the American Trucking Association, which has supported the new rules. “[They‘ve] been in force for four years and safety has improved over this time period.”

FMCSA noted that, in 2006, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.94 - the lowest rate ever recorded. Similarly, since 2003, the percentage of large trucks involved in fatigue-related fatal crashes in the 11th hour of driving has remained below the average of the years 1991-2002. In 2005 alone, the agency noted, there was only one large truck involved in a fatigue-related fatal crash in the 11th hour of driving while in 2004 there were none.

In addition, between 2003, when the 11-hour driving limit and the 34-hour restart were adopted, and 2006, the percent of fatigue-related large truck crashes relative to all fatal large truck crashes has remained consistent, FMCSA said - adding that estimates show that only 7% of large truck crashes are fatigue related.

“The data makes clear that these rules continue to protect drivers, make our roads safer and keep our economy moving,” said FMCSA Administrator John Hill, last year, when the agency submitted its new findings to the court.

However, the court‘s ruling doesn‘t mean HOS is home free by any means. The 11-hour drive time and 34-hour restart provision - the most controversial parts of the rule, both of which the court specifically put in limbo last summer - only get to stay in place while FMCSA collects additional safety data, secures comments from interested parties, and subjects its scientific analyses to peer review as it seeks to turn this from an interim final rule into a done deal.

Also, the opposition - and the Teamsters in particular - don‘t plan to give up without a fight. “We will continue to fight this dangerous rule, though the court refused to intervene this time,” said Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamster‘s general president, in a statement. “This was a procedural ruling that does nothing to support the Bush administration‘s justification for letting tired truck drivers spend even more time behind the wheel.”

But at least at this point, current HOS regulations are going to stay in place - crossing a significant legal hurdle that could ultimately lead to them becoming a permanent part of the trucking landscape.