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A challenge to certain federal hours-of-service regulations filed by the Teamsters Union and three nonprofits will not be reviewed by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In their legal challenge, the groups argued that the May 2020 final hours-of-service rule was “arbitrary and capricious” because it failed to address the safety and driver health consequences of changes to record-keeping rules for shorthaul commercial vehicle drivers, and rest break requirements for longhaul drivers.
The appellate panel denied the petition for review on the grounds that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration HOS rules were sufficiently “explained and grounded in the administrative record.”
In its decision, the appellate court wrote, “The administration continues to rely on hours-of-service limitations as a linchpin regulatory measure to ensure the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles. Two of those regulations are at issue here: a special record-keeping exemption for shorthaul drivers, and the requirement that longhaul drivers take a 30-minute break at set intervals.”
FMCSA said the final HOS rule allows more flexibility for the 30-minute rest break rule by requiring a break after eight hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using “on-duty, not driving” status, rather than “off-duty” status.
The final revision to the prior HOS rule also involved changing the shorthaul exception available to certain drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air-miles to 150 air-miles.
The shorthaul exemption allows more drivers to take advantage of simplified record-keeping requirements, including an exception on the use of electronic logging devices. It also exempts those drivers from the 30-minute break requirement that applies to longhaul drivers, the panel said.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was joined by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers in filing the petition, arguing that FMCSA failed to adequately explain its conclusion that the new shorthaul exemption was safety-neutral with respect to collision risk and driver health, and would not negatively impact regulatory compliance.
The groups further charged that the agency also insufficiently explained how the modification to the 30-minute break requirement was safety neutral and would not impact driver health.
According to a Teamsters’ survey: “Some of the Teamsters’ members currently qualify for the shorthaul exemption and will likely be assigned work that will either increase [vehicle-miles traveled] or be required to perform more nondriving tasks that extend the workday to 14 hours. One individual complained that the current 12-hour workday for shorthaul drivers was ‘more than enough’ and that a 14-hour duty period would deprive him of a ‘family-sustaining lifestyle.’ ”
Other Teamsters members subject to the new 30-minute break requirement “overwhelmingly indicated” that losing the previous 30-minute break rule for shorthaul drivers would increase their fatigue. “In their view, carriers would likely ‘discipline’ them for taking unscheduled breaks when fatigued and would pressure them to increase productivity by requiring them to perform additional on-duty/nondriving tasks,” the Teamsters alleged.
The appellate panel disagreed.
“While aspects of the administration’s analysis and reasoning leave much to be desired, at bottom, the administration sufficiently explained and factually justified its conclusions that the new shorthaul exemption and the 30-minute break requirement would not adversely affect safety, driver health or regulatory compliance,” the panel said.
“Because drivers now have 30 more minutes to adjust to unexpected weather, traffic and detention times, they can take breaks without penalty when they need rest. In addition, drivers could gain more restorative sleep because the elimination of the 30-minute off-duty break could allow drivers to reach their destination earlier,” the panel said.
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