In what's starting to feel like a familiar scenario, the latest truck driver hours-of-service (HOS) rule appears to be headed for a legal challenge. The rule, unveiled in August, revises the regulations currently in place, which themselves have failed to pass legal muster. But some argue that the revisions don't go far enough.
After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the previous rule in July 2004 for failing to consider driver health, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) came back with its proposed revisions in August. Trouble is, the latest incarnation makes few changes to the existing version. For example, it maintains the current rule's limits on driving, work and rest hours (drivers may spend 11 hours behind the wheel in a 14-hour work day but then must rest for 10 hours). And by making only minor alterations, it appears that the FMCSA has invited another challenge.
The minimal changes that have been made involve the "sleeper berth" provision and restrictions on some short-haul drivers. The new rule, which takes effect Oct. 1, allows drivers to use sleeper berths for two rest periods, of which one must be at least eight hours long. By contrast, the current rule allows drivers to take two rest breaks of at least two hours. It also eases restrictions for some short-haul drivers, defined as drivers who do not need a commercial drivers license and who operate within a 150-mile radius of their normal reporting location. Under the revised version, short-haul drivers must follow the HOS rule, but are not required to keep a log book and are allowed to work 16 hours, rather than 14, two days a week.
Public Citizen, one of several safety groups that sued to have the previous version of the rule overturned, called the new regulations a disappointment and has asked FMCSA to issue a redraft of the ruling. If FMCSA ignores that request, the rule is bound to be challenged in court again on the grounds that it fails to consider driver health. "The safety advocate group Public Citizen has already indicated they are not happy," says Pat O'Connor, the Washington counsel for the International Warehouse Logistics Association. "I'm sure they will go back to court."
Still, not everyone has expressed displeasure with the revisions. Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, praised the new rule, saying it "confirms our research that the current hours-of-service [regulations] have been measurably effective in improving safety on our nation's highways, providing for the health of truck drivers and assuring the efficient transport of our nation's goods." The FMCSA will conduct a transitional period of "relaxed enforcement" until Dec. 31, so that fleets and enforcement officials can update employees on the new rule.