Federal Appeals Court Upholds New Hours of Service Rules for Transportation Industry

Gus J. Bourgeois, III

August 28, 2013

The hard fought legal battle over tough new “hours of service” rules enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in late 2011, intended to improve highway safety by reducing truck driver fatigue, appears to have finally been resolved in early August 2013, with a federal appeals court in Washington, DC upholding almost all of the controversial rules. The rules include provisions:

  • reducing a driver’s seven-day workweek to 70 hours from 82 hours;
  • imposing  limits placed on drivers’ 34-hour minimum restart period, requiring it to occur once every seven days and requiring it to include two rest periods between 1 am and 5 am over two consecutive days; and
  • prohibiting truckers from driving more than eight hours without first taking at least a 30-minute off-duty break (although the Court rejected this provision as applied to short-haul (local delivery) drivers).

The American Trucking Association had argued against the rules, noting the increased costs that trucking companies would have to bear if the rules were upheld, and challenging the FMCSA’s conclusions as to the role of driver fatigue in accidents involving truck drivers.

The Court’s ruling likely will result in trucking companies having to hire additional drivers (with experienced drivers already in short supply) and put additional trucks into service, which critics noted will only increase traffic volumes, potentially leading to higher incidences of accidents involving such trucks. Time will tell whether these rules will have the intended effect – improvement in highway safety – but for now, the FMCSA issued a press release stating that it is moving forward with full implementation.