Few regulations impact the lives of professional truckers more than those dealing with Hours of Service and driver break/rest rules. A recent court action brought to an end four years of struggle over reforms originally petitioned in 2018. In 2020, proposed changes were announced and this year, the court ruled to let them stand as promulgated.
Conflicting Views Over HOS
In 2018, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association responded to increasing restrictions on drivers and complaints from their members. The OOIDA presented a formal petition to the U.S. Department of Transportation that focused on the lack of impact of the increasingly rigid regulatory environment.
The organization made the case that while crash rates were not improving, the regulations governing drivers were, “…overly complex, provide no flexibility, and in no way reflect the physical capabilities or limitations of individual drivers.” The carefully prepared petition went on to make the case that the rules made by those who had never driven 1-wheelers, “…force drivers to be on the road when they are tired or fatigued, during busy travel times and adverse weather and road conditions, or when they simply aren’t feeling well. In short, the current HOS regulations force truckers to comply with a regulatory framework that jeopardizes their safety and the safety of the traveling public.”
The specific target of the effort was to challenge the wisdom and impact of the mandated 3-minute rest break and 14-hour on-duty clock.
The result of this initiative was that, in September 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration moved to modify those regulations with several requested changes:
- Short-haul operators were granted an increase in on-duty hours from 12 to 14.
- These operators were also allowed 150 air-miles, instead of 100.
- A variety of activities, such as fueling, inspecting loads, and other nondriving events were allowed to qualify as part of meeting the 30-minute break requirement.
Focusing on the Objective and Purpose
These changes were in turn contested by several safety groups and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. However, the core thrust of the original petition was that the original regulations did not achieve their primary purpose: protecting driver welfare and improving highway safety.
The groups contesting the changes raised a series of issues, many of them questioning the data used by the FMSCA to evaluate short-haul safety records. In responding, the agency took the position that the increase in hours from 12 to 14 had no discernible impact on crash rates and provided more flexibility for drivers to drive in more desirable traffic conditions.
The Teamsters supported the claim that the data was not sufficient to support the FMCSA position. The lawyers for the union also made several quality-of-life arguments, indicating some members felt the 14-hour limit cut into their family time.
After multiple delays, the challenge reached the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in May of 2022. Multiple parties argued their position, with the OOIDA lawyers siding with those from the government.
In its final response, the court chose not to review the changes. Thus, they will be allowed to stand as promulgated in 2020. In rejecting the challenge, the court indicated its belief that the FMSCA had properly and sufficiently documented and explained the reasoning behind the modifications.
While there continues to be debate over HOS regulations and enforcement, one aspect of the hearings focused on recognizing the need to provide drivers with more flexibility to respond to weather, traffic patterns, and other issues. Circuit Judge Millet specifically noted that changes in the “30-minute break requirement would not adversely affect safety, driver health, or regulatory compliance.”
Other comments also argued that giving drivers more freedom to regulate their use of HOS and breaks and thereby take some pressure off their rushing to deal with detentions, meet deadlines and stay within work-hour limitations.