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Truckers: Safety groups ignore driving ‘realities’

Hours-of-service rule challenge lacks evidence that changes diminished safety, OOIDA asserts

New rest-break flexibility improves driver safety, OOIDA tells court. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Representatives of small-business truckers have asked a federal appeals court to deny safety advocates’ challenge to hours-of-service (HOS) rule changes, saying the challenge is not based on truck-driving realities.

In a petition filed in support of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association outlined how its members are benefiting from more flexibility provided by the changes — a somewhat rare occasion in which OOIDA, large carriers and the federal government are in agreement on new regulations.

“FMCSA’s changes to the 30-minute break requirement … and to the scope of the short-haul exemption … represent common sense updates to the HOS rules that significantly increase flexibility for commercial truck drivers while maintaining safety at least equivalent to previous versions of these rules,” OOIDA stated in its late Tuesday filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“In adopting the final rule, the agency relied on ample evidence from the administrative record demonstrating that more HOS flexibility means more efficient trips and less stress for drivers, improving safety on the road.”

30-minute “stress” break

The rule challenge by the safety groups — led by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) and joined by the Teamsters union — asserts that increasing the flexibility of the 30-minute rest break and loosening the time and mileage constraints of the short-haul exception will increase fatigue and lead to more crashes.

OOIDA noted that Advocates’ principal objection to the 30-minute break changes is premised on the idea that working — whether driving or other on-duty chores — causes fatigue.

But in addition to evidence presented by FMCSA in defending its changes in the appeals court last week, OOIDA cited comments it submitted to FMCSA during the rulemaking period that the rest-break provision as it stood before the change added to driver stress and forced drivers into unsafe conditions.

“The upshot of OOIDA’s comments in the administrative record is that the new version of the 30-minute break better takes into account the realities of drivers’ daily lives, making use of the breaks built-in to their days,” the group stated. “Importantly, the rule still requires drivers to stop driving for 30 minutes if they drive continuously for eight hours.”

OOIDA also takes issue with the Advocates’ contention that allowing drivers to spend their 30- minute breaks on duty — rather than switching to off-duty status, which had been the case before the change — will extend drivers’ workdays by half an hour. That is, Advocates argue that the previous version of the workday was a maximum of 13.5 on-duty time (the 14-hour duty limit less the 30-minute off-duty break). So by allowing drivers to take that break on-duty, they claim, drivers will now spend all 14 hours of the workday on duty.

“But this version of the workday does not exist for many drivers,” OOIDA stated, noting that FMCSA’s analysis estimated that only 5.6% of drivers work even 13.3 hours per day. “Moreover, the Advocates do not cite to any record evidence identifying how many drivers, if any, routinely work 14 or more hours per day, a necessary yet unsupported factual foundation of their arguments. Without increasing daily driving time, the new rule promotes driving more efficient and safe vehicle miles for the same amount of work.”

Drivers pushing the limit?

Regarding the short-haul provision, the safety groups’ assertion that lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours will increase the likelihood that short-haul drivers will exceed the driving limits is unfounded, OOIDA stated, because it is premised on the implication that “drivers generally push to drive the maximum hours or longer” that are allowed under HOS rules.

“OOIDA takes umbrage at the implication that truck drivers generally attempt to reach or exceed the maximum driving time on a routine basis,” the group maintained. “It is incorrect, disingenuous, and unsupported in the record to assert or imply that the hours-of-service limits have the practical effect of cutting short the daily schedules of the truck-driver population as a matter of course.”

It said the record generated during FMCSA’s rulemaking process has plenty of references to the “numerous stops to load and unload that short-haul drivers are required to make each workday,” as opposed to their long-haul counterparts.

“The Iowa Motor Truck Association commented that short-haul drivers make 20-25 deliveries and pick-ups each day … and these frequent stops provide a natural impediment to short-haul drivers exceeding 11 hours of daily driving time. FMCSA, therefore, reasonably inferred that these drivers routinely spend fewer hours driving than long-haul drivers.”

Violations and ELDs

OOIDA also took issue with the rule challengers’ assertions that expanding flexibility within the short-haul exception — which includes being exempted from ELD requirements — will increase HOS violations.

“The assumption here is that ELDs cause fewer HOS violations,” according to OOIDA. However, “[the safety groups] cite no evidence for the assertion and assumption that ‘electronic logging devices reduce noncompliance with hours-of-service rules.’

“ELDs have been mandated since December 2017, and there is no support in the record (or anywhere, to OOIDA’s knowledge) as to how ELDs have improved actual HOS compliance or safety. More than four years of industry-wide ELD use has yielded no evidence of their actual effectiveness.”

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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.