The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has asked an appeals court to suspend a lawsuit in what could be the first step toward a wholesale review by the agency of its own hours-of-service rules.
In a filing Thursday with the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, attorneys for FMCSA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) pointed out that with the Biden administration taking over, there is now new leadership at FMCSA.
“To allow the new agency officials sufficient time to become familiar with the issues and determine how they wish to proceed, respondents respectfully move to place this appeal in abeyance for 60 days,” the filing states.
The four petitioners filing the lawsuit – International Brotherhood of Teamsters, along with safety groups Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers – consented to the abeyance. Their petition, filed just weeks before the HOS changes went into effect on Sept. 29, asked that the upper court vacate the new rules, contending that the changes will increase driver fatigue and reduce safety.
Assuming the court grants the abeyance, during the next two months Biden’s FMCSA, headed now by Acting Administrator Meera Joshi and under the direction of DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, could decide that FMCSA will not defend the lawsuit and issue a new petition – which could lead to an eventual rollback of the current rules, according to a source familiar with the lawsuit.
Based on responses to lawmakers during questioning at his confirmation hearing, Buttigieg could be open to such a change.
“I’d want to look more into some of the specific case law that you’re discussing, but certainly recognizing the importance of consistency and predictability,” Buttigieg said when asked about federal preemption of HOS regulations in the case of meal and rest breaks. “The key of course is squaring that with the fundamental mission of safety.”
Major trucking groups, which had supported the years-long rulemaking process that led to the more flexible rules, have been bracing for a potential change in course with the new administration.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which intervened in the lawsuit in favor of keeping the new rules in place, stated in their petition that changes “have significantly and positively impacted the interests of OOIDA’s members. OOIDA members would be impacted directly by an order granting the relief petitioners seek in this challenge.”
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