FMCSA tries to keep current hours rule for now

Published September, 11 2004

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asked a federal appeals court Aug. 30 to keep the current hours-of-service regulations in place for at least six months – and probably considerably longer — while the agency works to address the court’s concerns.

Requiring the trucking industry to return suddenly to the old rule would “produce a potentially uncertain and problematic patchwork of enforcement obligations, resulting in significant confusion and substantially hamper enforcement” of the hours rule, FMCSA said.

In a related action, FMCSA said that on Sept. 1 it will publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking information from interested parties regarding the costs and benefits of electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs).

On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the current hours regulations, ordering FMCSA to reconsider them. The court withheld the effectiveness of its ruling until Aug. 30, however, to allow the agency time to consider whether to seek a rehearing.

FMCSA chose not to appeal the July 16 decision to a higher court. Instead, it is asking that the appeals court keep the current rule in place while it considers revisions. Without further action by the court, its enforcement of the July 16 ruling would immediately reinstate the regulations that were in place before Jan. 4, 2004.

The appeals court raised strong concerns over FMCSA’s justification of several key provisions, including the failure to consider EOBRs. Technically, however, the court turned back the rules for one reason alone: the failure to consider the impact on drivers’ health as required by Congress. FMCSA said that it has already entered into contracts with several entities for literature reviews relating to the effect of hours-of-service regulations on driver health.

FMCSA suggested that forcing the trucking industry to return to the old rule would reduce safety.

“The enforcement community and the trucking industry would, virtually overnight, be required to alter policies and procedures and retrain employees, in the face of uncertain standards,” the agency said in its motion for a stay. “In light of recent (albeit preliminary) data suggesting that accident rates have decreased during the first six months in which the existing rule has been in effect, a stay of the mandate will not compromise safety.”

FMCSA said a stay of six months “at the very least” would allow FMCSA to make an informed judgment, after receiving more information, as to the length of time that might be required to issue a new or revised rule. The agency said that at the end of the six-month period it would make a motion to the court on how to proceed.

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