Appeals Court tosses DOT?s 11-hour rule and 34-hour restart
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has issued a long-awaited opinion that may have a dramatic effect on federal hours-of-service rules for drivers of commercial motor vehicles. A three-judge panel granted a petition from the safety advocacy group Public Citizen and vacated portions of the hours-of-service rules issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in August 2005. Specifically, the court tossed out the FMCSA?s increase in the daily driving limit from 10 to 11 hours, and the rule that allows an off-duty period of 34 hours to restart the weekly on-duty limits.
The court agreed with Public Citizen that FMCSA failed to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on a statistical model the agency used to determine the risks associated with driver fatigue. The agency used the model as the basis for adopting the 11-hour rule and 34-hour restart. Public Citizen argued that the model failed to take into account the cumulative fatigue caused by increased weekly driving and working hours allowed by the 34-hour restart. Using the restart option, a driver can theoretically gain an extra 17 hours of driving time in a 7-day work week, but FMCSA failed to explain its reasoning for keeping the 34-hour restart in its 2005 rules, the court said.
Under court rules of procedure, the FMCSA has 45 days to request a rehearing before any changes take effect. If the agency does not request such a hearing, the court will issue a final order within seven days after that. In the meantime, the existing hours-of-service rules remain in effect.
In its decision, issued July 24, 2007, the court dismissed a related petition from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which challenged the 14-hour rule and sleeper-berth provisions.
The court disagreed with OOIDA?s arguments that:
- The FMCSA failed to deal with loading and unloading issues;
- The 14-hour on-duty limit is arbitrary and capricious because FMCSA failed to consider its negative effects on driver health and safety; and
- The sleeper-berth provisions should not have been changed because the agency failed to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the changes and failed to consider the effects of those changes.
The court found that FMCSA satisfied Congress? demands to ?deal with? the problem of fatigue related to loading and unloading and the agency acted reasonably in adopting the 14-hour rule and changes to the sleeper-berth provision.
The same court tossed out the FMCSA?s April 2003 hours-of-service rules after a successful challenge by a coalition of public safety groups led by Public Citizen, leading the agency to issue its amended rules in 2005.
The FMCSA made the following statement on July 24, 2007, in response to the ruling: ?We are analyzing the decision issued today to understand the court?s findings as well as determine the agency?s next steps to prevent driver fatigue, ensure safe and efficient motor carrier operations, and save lives. This decision does not go into effect until September 14, unless the court orders otherwise.?
to view the court?s July 24 decision.