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August 6, 2013 11:00 AM, EDT

Court Upholds Most Provisions of HOS Rule

Bruce Harmon/Trans Pixs

A federal appeals court upheld the majority of the government’s hours-of-service rule for truck drivers, rejecting most arguments presented by American Trucking Associations and Public Citizen.

The only provision that the court overturned was the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s decision not to exempt shorthaul drivers from the new requirement that drivers take 30-minute breaks before driving more than eight hours straight. 

The court’s ruling issued Friday upheld the 30-minute break for all other drivers. ATA had challenged the provision, saying the research FMCSA cited only justified requiring breaks from driving, not non-working breaks.

It also upheld the restrictions on the 34-hour restart that drivers can use to reset their weekly driving limits: It can be used only once every seven days and must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

The revised HOS rule took effect July 1, a year-and-a-half after FMCSA first made it final.

ATA filed suit in February 2012, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to block implementation of the HOS rule, which it said used flawed assumptions and analysis and was “arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law.” 

“While we are disappointed the court chose to give unlimited deference to [FMCSA’s] agenda-driving rulemaking, the striking down of the shorthaul break provision is an important victory,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs.

“The court recognized on numerous occasions the shortcomings of the agency’s deliberations, so despite upholding most of the rule, we hope this opinion will serve as a warning to FMCSA not to rely on similarly unsubstantiated rulemakings in the future,” Osiecki said in a statement.

ATA had argued that the rule was “overly restrictive and costly,” while Public Citizen, representing a collection of public interest groups, argued the rule “is insufficiently protective of public safety,” the court stated. FMCSA came “down squarely in the middle, believing it got everything ‘just right,’” the ruling said.

The ruling kept in place the two provisions Public Citizen had challenged: That FMCSA should not have allowed the 11th hour of driving and the 34-hour restart — two provisions the agency has allowed since 2004.

The court called ATA and other groups’ disputes with the rule “highly technical points best left to [FMCSA].”

Government lawyers told the appeals court in March of this year that the trucking industry’s objections to HOS rule changes were nothing more than “simple scientific disputes” and that the court should defer to the government’s judgment in solving such disputes.

In a brief statement, FMCSA said it was “pleased with the court’s decision” and that it “is reviewing the court’s opinion and will soon take additional action, as needed, for its full implementation.”

Scott Nelson, the Public Citizen attorney who argued the case for that group and its allies, said his group was “obviously disappointed” with the ruling.

The court upheld the restart provision by ruling that Public Citizen did not have standing to challenge it, which Nelson characterized as “ducking” the issue. “The restart provision has now been sustained without anybody evaluating its merits,” he said.

In upholding the 11th daily driving hour, Nelson said the court trusted FMCSA’s scientific judgments, but the agency didn’t thoroughly examine the science.

“The court really put its finger on it: The agency won by attrition, not really making a persuasive case for its rule,” Nelson said, paraphrasing a sentence from the ruling.

FMCSA differentiates shorthaul drivers — who stay within a 150 air-mile radius of a home terminal, return to it on a regular basis and are driving a truck that does not require a commercial driver license — from longhaul drivers in many other provisions of HOS regulation, the court said.