January 10, 2011 4:45 AM, EST

Court Extends FMCSA’s Deadline to Issue Rule on HOS Documents

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Jan. 10 print edition of Transport Topics.

A federal court granted an extension to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for its overdue regulation on documents truckers use to verify hours-of-service records. The regulation also will expand the mandate for the use of electronic onboard recorders.

In a Dec. 23 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia gave FMCSA 30 more days to issue its proposed supporting documents rule, setting a new deadline of Jan. 31.

FMCSA sent its proposal on Nov. 29 to the White House Office of Management and Budget, where it is still being reviewed.

In its request, the agency said it “has been working diligently” to meet the court’s previous deadline of Dec. 30, but “the OMB approval process is ongoing.”

FMCSA said it “anticipates that this process will be completed within the next 30 days, after which the [proposal] can be published in the Federal Register.”

The court imposed its deadline in September as part of a continuing legal battle between FMCSA and American Trucking Associations, which has sought to force the agency to issue the rule.

ATA Chief Counsel Robert Digges Jr. told Transport Topics the extension was not surprising.

“We consented to it, with the knowledge that the OMB hadn’t released the rule yet, but it doesn’t mean we were particularly happy about it,” he said.

In addition to the supporting documents provisions, FMCSA officials have said the rule also will expand the number of fleets required to use EOBRs to monitor their drivers.

In December, Ad­ministrator Anne Ferro said the two issues were combined because they “go hand-in-hand, in terms of what technology does and what kind of record keeping is required.”

ATA sued FMCSA last January, hoping to get the agency to clarify what documents must be retained to support drivers’ hours-of-service logs.

In the spring, the agency issued guidance on document retention, rather than a rule. However, ATA said then that the guidance was insufficient and the trucking federation pressed ahead with its lawsuit.

Digges, however, said that he expects the rule to look “very much like that guidance that they issued in June.”

“There will be some lessening of the documents you need to use, based on the sorts of electronic records you now have,” he said.

Digges added that while the guidance did not go as far as ATA would have liked, the trucking group’s concerns were focused on other parts of the guidance.

“Our main concern was they talked about what would be a valid electronic record, the elements it would have to have, but they then went on to say that, if your system didn’t have all of those elements, you still had to use it anyway, and it made absolutely no sense to us,” Digges said.