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February 14, 2007 8:00 AM, EST

Opinion: Trucking Braces for Hours-of-Service Decision

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By David McCorkleChairmanMcCorkle Truck Line Inc.In May 2000, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a number of proposed changes to the existing hours-of-service rules — rules which, until this point, had remained virtually unchanged for 60 years. Not surprisingly, a number of costly and unsafe changes that were proposed included complex classifications, mandatory electronic onboard recording devices and required “weekends” in every workweek.To fight those changes, the trucking industry rallied together and filed more than 53,000 comments to the rule- making docket — and ultimately convinced Congress to step in and take action.In 2003, FMCSA took a more reasonable approach to changing the long-standing rules, but that action was met with litigation. Advocacy groups questioned the effect of the rule on driver health and later on its ability to sufficiently alleviate fatigue.Though the U.S. Court of Appeals cannot tell an agency how to write a rule, it can determine whether the mandate given was followed and can ask the agency to rewrite the rule if the court determines it wasn’t. Since 2003, the court has asked for rewriting multiple times, forcing the industry into a prolonged and sometimes forgotten battle.The true hours-of-service journey started in the mid-1980s with a working group organized by the Truckload Carriers Association. Subsequently, after years of work by its members, American Trucking Associations filed with FMCSA a comprehensive proposal for change in 1999, capturing several of the key components in litigation today. These issues included the 14-hour workday, the 10-hour rest period and the 34-hour restart. As an industry, we fought for the changes that FMCSA adopted. And, as an industry, we sought to preserve flexibility in scheduling — a far cry from the original restrictions on nighttime driving and mandatory “weekends” off-duty.As the court prepares to hand down its decision, we have to be prepared to work together as an industry again — not only defending the progress we have made but also moving forward ATA’s agenda of having a safe, rested and alert driver at all times. Regardless of the litigation’s outcome, ATA is prepared to promote the industry’s interests with safety data and a recently completed scientific study. With new data and science, we know that increasing the flexibility of the sleeper berth provision is a primary objective. The writer is chairman of American Trucking Associations’ hours-of-service subcommittee and was 2001-02 ATA chairman. McCorkle Truck Line Inc., Oklahoma City, serves 46 states, specializing in dry bulk commodities.This opinion piece appears in the Feb. 13 print edition of Transport Topics. Subscribe today.