President Bush Thursday night signed legislation that keeps the current hours-of service regulations will remain in place until Sept. 30, 2005, or until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration completes a new rulemaking as ordered by a federal court, whichever comes first.
The measure is part of a new law, which the House and Senate passed during the day on Thursday, that extends highway development and safety programs, including those of FMCSA, for eight months. Without the extension, federal highway programs and the agencies that oversee them would have had to shut down today.
On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that FMCSA had failed to consider the effect of its final rule on the health of drivers as required by Congress in 1995. The court also expressed strong skepticism of the agency’s rationale in other respects, including the additional hour of driving time, the 34-hour restart of cumulative hours, retention of split rest using sleeper berths and the failure to test and consider a requirement for electronic onboard recorders.
The appeals court ordered a new rulemaking and vacated the current rules, effectively requiring that the rules in place before Jan. 4, 2004, take effect once again in the meantime. It has been unclear, however, how much discretion FMCSA would have in that event to delay an immediate return of the old rules.
FMCSA chose not to appeal the decision to a higher court but instead asked the court to keep the current rules in place while it considers a new rule to address the court’s concerns. FMCSA’s motion for a stay of the court’s mandate received support from the trucking industry, shipper community and law enforcement agencies.
In its filings with the court, FMCSA said that 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.
Public Citizen asked the court to reinstate the old rule, arguing that a stay of the court’s mandate likely would leave the current rule in place for several years.
The appeals court has not yet ruled on FMCSA’s request. Enactment of H.R. 5183 holds current rules in place, but it doesn’t overturn the court’s opinion as to the rule’s flaws. In fact, the legislation refers to “a new final rule addressing the issues raised by the July 16, 2004, decision” of the appeals court.