Safety Advocates Sue DOT, Try to Invalidate New HOS RulesOctober 13, 2020
New Hours-of-Service Rules Will Exacerbate Trucker Fatigue, Advocates Say
On Sept. 16, 2020, four organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) over the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules. Alleging that the new HOS rules are dangerous, the organizations are hoping their lawsuit will invalidate the recent changes.
The New HOS Rules at a Glance: More Flexibility for Truckers
To understand what’s at stake in this case, it’s first essential to know how the hours-of-service rules have changed. In June 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published the controversial HOS updates at the heart of this case.
The changes are supposed to offer commercials motorists more flexibility in terms of taking breaks and scheduling driving time in light of dynamic conditions, like weather and traffic. Specifically, the HOS updates affect the:
- Short-haul exception: This adds two hours to short-haul truckers’ workday, extending the maximum workable hours to 14 hours. It also redefines what short-hauls are, updating them to include hauls within a 150 air-mile radius (AMR). Previously, these hauls only included those within a 100 AMR.
- Adverse driving conditions provision: This has been updated to add two more hours to the “extra driving” time already allotted by previous HOS rules. That means four hours total for the adverse driving conditions exception.
- 30-minute break requirement: This break can now be taken while drivers are on duty but not driving, as long as they also satisfy their off-duty break requirement.
- Sleeper berth provision: With this update, drivers can break up their 10 hours of off-duty time however they want, as long as specific requirements are met.
Many in the trucking industry have praised the HOS rule updates as being necessary without presenting a threat to roadway safety. One of the notable names supporting the new HOS rules has been Chris Spear, the President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). Mr. Spear has stated:
[The new HOS rules] will result in needed flexibility for America’s professional truck drivers while maintaining the safety of our roads… [the updates are making] smart changes to portions of the rules.
HOS Lawsuit: Advocates Challenge New HOS Rules, DOT in Court
The HOS lawsuit has been filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Represented by Public Citizen Litigation Group, the plaintiffs in this case include:
- Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AAHS)
- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)
- Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT)
- Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH)
These groups allege that the new HOS rules are flawed and dangerous because:
- The HOS rule changes are not backed by any data: The FMCSA and DOT did not properly analyze how the rule changes would impact truck drivers and the driving public, the plaintiffs contend.
- The new HOS rules will worsen the problem of trucker fatigue: AAHS has explained that “under the guise of increased flexibility, the changes will further exacerbate the already well-known threat of fatigue among commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers by significantly weakening current HOS rules.” With fatigue known to cause impairment, the concern is that the new HOS rules will increase fatigue-related truck accidents.
- The new rules contradict regulators’ previous findings: The plaintiffs say that the FMCSA and DOT have previously concluded that the dangers of trucker fatigue necessitate certain provisions in the HOS rules. With the updated hours-of-service regulations, regulators seem to be disregarding their previous stance on this important safety issue, the plaintiffs say.
Advocates Issue Statements on HOS Lawsuit
In the wake of filing this HOS lawsuit, the plaintiffs have issued statements to explain why they want the latest updates to hours-of-service regulations invalidated.
AHAS President Cathy Chase has stated:
Allowing operators to work longer hours and drive farther distances without proper rest breaks and other protections ignores science, data, and expert opinion, including that of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). With large truck crash fatalities on the rise for five consecutive years, the FMCSA should be taking action to advance proven solutions to reduce crashes, such as requiring automatic emergency braking, rather than eviscerating the minimal truck driver protections.
James P. Hoffa, the General President of IBT, has explained that:
By issuing this HOS regulation, FMCSA has bowed to special trucking industry interests at the expense of highway safety, seeking longer workdays for drivers who are already being pushed to the limit. We join this lawsuit to ensure that our members and their families are protected from fatigued drivers when they use our nation’s highways.
Echoing these concerns, CRASH Chair Joan Claybrook pointed out that:
The FMCSA regulators are once again failing to protect public safety. Under this Administration truck crash deaths are increasing, and we know what needs to be done to reverse this trend. Nevertheless, FMCSA is working overtime to dismantle and weaken the minimal safety protections that still remain for drivers and the public. We hope the courts will halt FMCSA’s ill-advised and dangerous proposal.
PATT President Daphne Izer backed up these statements:
Instead of advancing safety solutions, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration once again is retreating by making changes that will contribute to truck driver fatigue and jeopardize our safety.
Whether the new HOS rules will increase trucker fatigue crashes remains to be seen. While regulators keep a close eye on traffic accidents in the wake of the HOS updates, many are also closely following the HOS lawsuit to see if it will cause the FMCSA and DOT to reverse course on the new hours-of-service rules.