Groups file suit against FMCSA, DOT over final rule amending trucker hours-of-service regulations
Washington — A coalition of roadway safety advocacy groups, in conjunction with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation challenging a controversial final rule FMCSA claims will add flexibility to hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers.
In the lawsuit, filed Sept. 16 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers, and the Teamsters request a reexamination of the final rule as well as their petition for FMCSA to reconsider the rule. The groups filed the petition June 30, and FMCSA denied it Aug. 25.
At press time, the rule was slated to take effect Sept. 29. The petitioners call the rule “flawed” in a Sept. 16 press release.
“Under the guise of increased flexibility, the changes will further exacerbate the already well-known threat of fatigue among commercial motor vehicle drivers by significantly weakening current HOS rules,” the release states.
Under the rule, announced in a May 14 agency press release and published in the June 1 Federal Register, FMCSA will:
- Change the short-haul exemption to 150 air miles from 100, and 14 hours on duty from 12, to be consistent for rules with long-haul truck drivers.
- Extend the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions.
- Revise the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after eight hours of continuous driving.
- Reinstate the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks equipped with sleeper berth compartments.
In the petition, the groups contend that “the final rule is not in the public interest and does not meet the agency’s statutory mission in carrying out its duties to assign and maintain safety as the highest priority.” They cite National Highway Traffic Administration data showing that 4,951 fatalities in incidents involving a large truck occurred in 2018, as well as additional research highlighting fatigue-related hazards associated with the profession.
Preliminary data released in NHTSA’s May 2020 “Traffic Safety Facts” report shows that fatalities in incidents involving a large truck are projected to have increased 1% in 2019.
“If I fall asleep on the job, my head hits the keyboard,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in the Sept. 16 release. “If a truck driver falls asleep, his/her head hits the windshield, and that’s only part of the catastrophic outcome. Allowing operators to work longer hours and drive farther distances without proper rest breaks and other protections ignores science, data and expert opinion.”
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa also expressed his opposition to the final rule.
“By issuing this HOS regulation, FMCSA has bowed to special trucking industry interests at the expense of highway safety, seeking longer workdays for drivers who are already being pushed to the limit,” Hoffa said in the release. “We join this lawsuit to ensure that our members and their families are protected from fatigued drivers when they use our nation’s roadways.”
The rule doesn’t include a proposed provision that would have allowed covered CMV operators one rest break of up to three consecutive hours during every 14-hour on-duty period. However, under a proposed FMCSA pilot program published in the Sept. 3 Federal Register, CMV operators would be allowed one rest break of up to three consecutive hours but no less than 30 minutes during every 14-hour on-duty period. Comments on the pilot program are due Nov. 2.
In a May 14 video posted on the DOT’s YouTube channel, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said the final rule’s provisions “will help drivers reach their destination safely without feeling like they’ve got to race against the clock to comply with federal mandates. They will also help truckers get the rest they need when they need it. When safety rules make sense, drivers are better table to comply, and that benefits everyone.”