A U.S. Court of Appeals decision to overturn hours-of-service (HOS) regulations that took effect earlier this year could lead to even tougher limitations for truck drivers. The trucking and logistics industries are bracing for a possible re-write of the law by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—one that could take drivers off the roads for even longer rest periods. FMCSA had until the end of August to respond to the court's decision, handed down in mid-July.
According to Chuck Horan, director of enforcement and compliance for the FMCSA, the administration may opt for a legislative fix by asking Congress to make the hours-of-service mandate a law. The group could also appeal the court's decision, or re-write or amend the hours-of-service rules.
It's too early to tell if shippers and truckers will need to revert back to the old HOS rules, the regulations that were in place prior to January 2004. The current regulations will remain in effect as long as FMCSA is pursuing legal options. If FMCSA files for a petition for a new hearing, the rules stay in effect until the court rules on that hearing. If the court rules against FMCSA, the current HOS rules would be vacated.
"There is a lot of money and effort tied up in the change from the old rule to the new rule, and for us to go backward would cause a lot of work to be done," says Horan.
The Court of Appeals agreed with a lawsuit filed earlier this year by public interest group Public Citizen that the current regulations "failed to consider the impact of the rules on the health of the drivers." Specific provisions of the HOS rules that drew fire include an increase in maximum driving time from 10 to 11 hours, sleeper-berth exceptions, electronic on-board recorders and the 34- hour re-start provision.
Now, many logistics executives fear the rules will get even tougher, placing additional hardships on shippers and trucking companies. "This may make matters worse," says Denise Ciok, vice president of transportation at Port Jersey Logistics, a third-party provider of supply chain management services. "I think they will look into giving drivers even more time off, and it'll have a bigger impact than it already has in the industry."
Pat O'Connor, the Washington-based legislative counsel for IWLA—The Association for Logistics Outsourcing, concurs: "The bad news is they could determine the rules were not strong enough, so we could be hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire."
John A. Gentle, global leader for carrier relations at Owens Corning, empathizes with government officials about the task at hand. "It's difficult to make everyone happy," says Gentle, who's also chairman of the National Industrial Transportation League's Highway Transportation Committee. "Capacity is exceptionally tight and here we are trying to balance an economy with driver capacity and a strong desire for safety on our highways with a single [regulation] that makes sense for everyone. That's a challenging task."