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Hours-of-service challenge laid out in DC appeals court

Safety groups, Teamsters zero in on short-haul, 30-minute break-rule changes, assert they will lead to more truck crashes

Three safety groups and the Teamsters union have filed their initial petition in federal appeals court challenging the federal truck driver hours-of-service (HOS) final rule that went into effect last year. The groups zeroed in on the new short-haul and 30-minute rest-break provisions.

In a filing late Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Parents Against Tired Truckers, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and the Teamsters claimed that by making the rules more flexible for the industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration made truck driving more dangerous.

“Overall, although the final rule pays lip service to safety and driver health, it ignores factors that affect safety and health, and it fails to demonstrate that the changes were the product of reasoned decision making,” the groups assert. “The final rule’s provisions on short-haul operations and the 30-minute break requirement are arbitrary and capricious and should be set aside.”

FMCSA’s final rule, which generated over 8,000 comments, made the following changes to the existing HOS rules:

  • Changed the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
  • Increased flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after eight hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
  • Modified the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split or a 7/3 split. Neither period counts against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
  • Modified the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.

Regarding the short-haul exception, however, the groups claim that FMCSA has not explained why — given a presumed increased safety risk of driving later in the workday — extending the hours for short-haul drivers would not adversely affect safety.

“The final rule also does not adequately respond to a study showing a 383% heightened crash risk among drivers using the short-haul exemption, and does not explain why expanding the work hours of short-haul drivers, who typically make many stops throughout the day, would not be expected to increase the incidence of occupational injuries among such drivers,” the petitioners stated.

With respect to the 30-minute break requirement, FMCSA’s discussion of safety effects brought about by the changes focuses on the benefits that breaks have in reducing fatigue caused by prolonged driving. In the rulemaking, FMCSA had reconsidered a study finding that breaks reduced safety risks in the hour following the break, and concluded that the study did not demonstrate a clear difference between on- and off-duty breaks, according to the petitioners.

However, “FMCSA ignored the effect on safety of cumulative fatigue due to increased working hours and the fatigue effects of non-driving work, which can include heavy lifting and other strenuous activities,” the groups stated.

FMCSA also ignored the health benefits that a previous HOS rule attributed to the 30-minute break requirement “and made no efforts to analyze the effects of the changes to the break requirement on those benefits or other health issues.”

In a separate statement included in the petition, Lamont Byrd, director of Teamsters’ safety and health department, contended that any new collective bargaining agreements that keep the original short-haul and rest-break rules in place (to maintain presumed higher safety levels) will put the labor union’s members at a competitive disadvantage compared to independent contractors not covered by those provisions.

“Similarly, employers of [Teamster] drivers who choose to continue to abide by the limitations on the short-haul exemption and the 30-minute break requirement that existed before the final rule will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to motor carriers that do not,” Byrd stated.

Responses from FMCSA and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which is intervening for FMCSA, are due in January. 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

11 Comments

  1. The HOS finally work for short haul drivers. But typical the government decides to fix something that s not broken. Time to get out of the industry I guess. Just keep pushing drivers out. That should fix the chain shortage

  2. I have worked as a teamster, as a manger of teamsters, and in OTR for over 30 years. I’m no fan of unions or government regulation. However, I agree with both on this. While most drivers are safe and responsible it’s those who aren’t that cause the regulations. Many people are killed in auto accidents every year and a small percentage of those involve trucks. An even smaller percentage are the truck drivers fault. The FMCSA exitst to reduce large truck and bus crashes. The best way to do that is keep impaired drivers of the road. The new rules don’t do that.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.