The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued its long-awaited ruling on the American Trucking Associations challenge to the most recent revisions in the hours-of-service rules. It struck down a provision requiring short-haul drivers to take 30-minute off-duty break, but left most of the rule unchanged.
“While we are disappointed the court chose to give unlimited deference to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s agenda-driving rulemaking, the striking down of the short-haul break provision is an important victory,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA senior vice-president of policy and regulatory affairs.
Though the 30-minute, off-duty break requirement for short-haul drivers was vacated, the court upheld new limitations on use of the restart, and the requirement that the 30-minute driving break be free of all on-duty activity. This is despite agreeing with ATA that the FMCSA’s justification for the rule had serious flaws.
The court identified several of these flaws, but it declined to “second-guess” the agency’s methodologies and interpretations of the evidence. Instead, according to the ATA, it took a “highly deferential” approach to the agency’s findings, concluding that “FMCSA won the day not through the strengths of its rulemaking prowess,” but rather through “an artless war of attrition.”
Further, the court found no merit in the challenge of a coalition of interest groups that have repeatedly fought to make a working regulation more restrictive. The court concluded it “would have been unreasonable and unfounded on the record” to reduce the driving day from 11 to 10 hours. It also summarily rejected the groups’ call to eliminate the restart altogether.
“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,” said Osiecki. “One thing this rulemaking makes clear is that fatigue is a small problem when viewed through a crash causation lens. ATA hopes FMCSA will work with the trucking industry to address more pressing safety and driver behavior issues, including those than can be directly affected through proven traffic enforcement activities aimed at unsafe operating behaviors.”