Hours-of-Service Rule Change Stalls

ATA Officials Meet With DOT Seeking Action
By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the Sept. 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

Recent legal moves by American Trucking Associations will temporarily keep existing driver hours-of-service rules in place, trucking officials said.
Meanwhile, despite a meeting in which ATA officials asked Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to issue an emergency rule keeping the existing driver-hours regulation in place, the Department of Transportation and its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had not addressed a federal court’s decision striking down parts of the regulation when Transport Topics went to press.
The court’s ruling, which invalidated parts of the revised HOS regulation, was to have gone into effect Sept. 14, but on Sept. 6, ATA asked the court for a stay in implementing its decision.
“The simple filing of the request for a stay of the effective date of the decision stays it automatically until the court acts upon it,” said Robert Digges, deputy general counsel for ATA.
ATA filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, seeking an eight-month stay of that court’s decision to eliminate the provisions of the rule that allowed an 11th hour of driving per day and let drivers reset their weekly hour limits by taking an extended off-duty period (7-30, p. 1).
Digges said, “Until the court’s mandate is issued, the decision has no legal effect,” and by requesting a stay, ATA has asked “the court to delay issuing the mandate” until FMCSA addresses its concerns with the rule.
The stay was one of two actions ATA took to seek relief from the decision. The trucking federation also requested that FMCSA issue an emergency rule maintaining the status quo while the agency revises its regulation.
Executives of four large trucking fleets, led by ATA President Bill Graves, met with DOT Secretary Peters and other DOT officials Sept. 10. Joining Graves were Chris Lofgren, president of Schneider National; Mike Smid, president of YRC Worldwide; Steve Williams, chairman and chief executive officer of Maverick USA; and Jim O’Neal, president of O&S Trucking and chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association.
“I was principally focused on simply explaining the decision by ATA to file a motion for stay and to ask the secretary and administrator for their support for our motion to stay the decision and for them to, as we had suggested . . . offer up an interim final rule that once again establishes the 11th hour of driving and the 34-hour restart,” Graves told TT Sept. 12.
He told TT that even in his meeting with Peters, DOT officials “continue to be very professional and are being very cautious about not providing any indications, any signals on where they may come down on the issue.”
That silence, Graves said, is beginning to unsettle the industry.
“It’s fair to say that there’s a frustration that we don’t have a better sense of commitment from FMCSA and DOT to aggressively support their rule — a rule that’s produced some pretty solid safety numbers in 2006,” Graves said.
He added that ATA should “encourage FMCSA and DOT to take all the time they need” to properly address the court’s concerns.
The lengthy legal process is the reason that the agency has yet to announce how it plans to address the court’s issues with the rule, FMCSA Administrator John Hill told TT Sept. 7.
During the Sept. 7 interview, Hill said he was “not prepared to discuss” details about what FMCSA was doing do address the court, beyond observing the ongoing legal proceedings and coordinating with the Department of Justice on a possible response.
“We have been reluctant to get too far ahead of that process,” Hill said.
With the legal future of the court’s ruling still undecided, Hill said, issuing new rules or guidance to states could send “conflicting messages.”
Hill said the agency had been working with the Department of Justice on determining whether or not to back a stay of the decision.
Agency spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney told TT Sept. 14 nothing had changed in FMCSA’s position since Hill’s comments.
Concerns that the rule would go into effect Sept. 14 were “all for naught,” said Steve Keppler, director of policy and programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance — noting that given the deadlines associated with the motion and the time the court can take to make its decision, the ruling may not go into effect for some time.
“It could be indefinite period,” Keppler said.
Digges said he expected “a few weeks of briefings and filings.”
“Then we’re looking at a week to a month [before a final decision is made],” Digges said. “There is no time frame.”
Keppler said CVSA and its members were not bothered by the lack of guidance from FMCSA, but “we’ve made it pretty clear . . . [that] it’s paramount there’s some transition time provided to deal with any potential changes.”
“Certainly, you don’t want to be surprised, and you want to have as much as lead time as possible,” he said, “but we’re certainly expecting that lead time will be part of whatever the agency does.”